Byline: Reps. Ted Poe and Carolyn Maloney

A miraculous thing happened recently in Washington. Both parties came together to negotiate important legislation, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, moving beyond partisan attacks and rhetoric to find common ground. Their compromise passed the Senate by a vote of 99-0. This is not only important from a procedural, functional standpoint, it’s important because it will help fight a major problem in our society: human trafficking, one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the United States. We urge the House to bring the Senate bill up for a vote without delay.

Many of us do not realize that in this nation, and in our own backyards, individuals are held against their will, their bodies sold repeatedly day in and day out. This modern-day form of slavery is an enormous black market, with an estimated value of $9.8 billion in the U.S. The average age of children sold into the sex trade is just 13. As Americans, and as parents and grandparents, we cannot turn a blind eye to this fact any more. Human trafficking is real. It is in every state, city and suburb in America. It is imperative that we protect American children from the traffickers who prey upon the most vulnerable in our society.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is a robust and aggressive response that does three main things. 

First, the bill targets demand. Going after those who buy and sell our children will help decimate this industry. The legislation treats those who pay for sex with minors and other trafficking victims as criminals and will help prosecutors put them where they belong: behind bars. 

Second, the bill focuses on restoring the victims. Children who are sold for sex are victims, not prostitutes, and it’s time to treat them as such by ensuring that they have a safe place to stay, resources they need for rehabilitation and services uniquely tailored for human trafficking survivors. 

Lastly, the bill provides resources to train law enforcement and others who may come into contact with human trafficking victims to better identify and respond to their needs. The bill creates a fund built from fees and fines collected from convicted traffickers. 

We urge the House to bring S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, to the floor for a vote and send it to the president’s desk for signature. It will be a powerful day when Washington can stand together to proclaim, “Our children are not for sale.”

Poe has represented Texas’s 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees. A former prosecutor and criminal court judge, Poe is the founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus. Maloney represents New York’s 12th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1993. She sits on the Financial Services and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. She is the co-founder and co-chairwoman of the Human Trafficking Caucus.