Recently, our female colleagues on both sides of the aisle came together to discuss underaged sex trafficking. Not in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, where our attention is usually directed. But right here in the United States, where on any given day, some 250,000 American children, mostly young girls, are at risk of being sold into our nation's burgeoning sex trafficking industry.
Why is America's girl-focused sex traffic industry flourishing in its dark and dangerous marketplace? The simple answer is demand. As with any business, legal or illegal, success requires demand for the product being sold. In this case, men constitute the demand. Men are part of the problem. And men are part of the solution.
That is why we are joining our female colleagues to declare loudly that "our daughters are not for sale."
Understand that the daughters that we're talking about aren't street-wise prostitutes, but on average, 12- to 14-year-old girls. Many are runaways, abducted or lured by traffickers, then raped and beaten into submission. Traffickers have turned their attention from drugs to young girls because, as we are told, criminal enterprises have discovered it is less risky and more profitable to sell young girls than it is to market heroin or crack cocaine. This is happening in America today.
Regretfully, the "johns" who pay for these young girls are rarely arrested or prosecuted. More often it is their young rape victims who are re-victimized by a legal system all too quick to label them as prostitutes and, with that, give them lifelong criminal records. Our social welfare system too often fails to provide the necessary services to help these victims.
The agenda that our female colleagues put forth marks a huge step forward by Congress in addressing this national crisis. We, as men, join them in this effort and support these principles and needed steps:
- Law enforcement and prosecutors must treat trafficked girls as victims, not criminals.
- Exploited and trafficked girls must receive the same legal support and protections as other rape victims and full protection under laws governing child abuse.
- Social services must provide victims with healing, as well as community education programs, to help everyone better understand the nature of a victimhood that most often includes broken homes, broken relationships and a welfare system that allows kids to fall through the cracks.
But the most significant point still focuses on demand.
To be sure, the last decade has seen significant federal and state efforts to go after traffickers – most of whom are men. But virtually none of the various task forces is charged with the dual responsibility of targeting buyers – most of whom are also men.
That must change. And our laws must be clear. Anyone who buys or sells a child will be caught and punished accordingly, under the full weight of local, state, and federal enforcement agencies. Men, as well as women, need to get behind making both our system of laws and penalties airtight in that respect.
On the demand side, there is a cultural component as well as a parent/guardian component at work. Every parent knows that protecting our kids while giving them the independence they need to learn and grow is a delicate balancing act.
In the meantime, as congressmen from different sides of the aisle, who are also fathers, we are pressing our colleagues, both male and female, to help assure that Congress, the Justice Department, and the White House address the issue of demand, along with the need for tougher laws and policies, in a shared effort to end this form of modern-day slavery.
That is our Father's Day gift to America's most vulnerable daughters.
Rep. Rick Nolan is a Minnesota Democrat. Rep. Ted Poe is a Texas Republican and founder of the Victims' Rights Caucus.