By: Dallas News

WASHINGTON — Texas Sen. John Cornyn and other lawmakers aimed Tuesday to step up efforts against human trafficking, vowing to boost law enforcement resources, penalties for perpetrators and services for victims.

“Everyone here today recognizes the atrocity of human trafficking, and we’ve united across party lines and in bicameral fashion, as you can tell, to take a firm stand against it,” Cornyn, a Republican, said at a news conference to introduce new legislation with bipartisan support.

Sex trafficking is a particular focus of the bill, called the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act. The legislation increases penalties for sex traffickers and their customers and requires regular reporting of sex trafficking crimes to the FBI’s criminal database, among other measures.

Another facet of the bill involves using money and other assets seized from traffickers to provide restitution to victims. The money could total $30 million, lawmakers estimate.

Criminal groups looking for something less risky than the drug trade have been drawn to sex trafficking, lawmakers said.

“This field has been a magnet for criminals because of the opportunity to make big and easy money,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Estimates place the number of sex trafficking cases as high as 300,000 a year.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., another cosponsor of the bill, said the average age of a trafficking victim is 13 — “not even old enough to attend a high school prom, that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, is introducing a companion bill in the House. Cornyn and Poe, both former judges, have introduced a number of bills to fight the crime.

Poe said one focus of the latest legislation is going after sex traffickers and their customers while making sure victims get help instead of being prosecuted as prostitutes. He said Houston’s size and location near the border make it a hub for traffickers. Experts estimate 1 in 4 sex trafficking cases has a Texas connection.