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It’s time to take human trafficking seriously

 

(This originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Nov. 10, 2014.)

It is a horrifying story, but one that has become all too common.

By age 10, a young girl was being sold to men in bars. At 14, she escaped captivity as a sex slave and landed on the streets, penniless and alone, ultimately turning to a pimp who trafficked her for several years as a minor. This happened not in the dark corners of a Third World country, but right here in Dallas.

The victim was Melissa Woodward, and the details of her ordeal are harrowing. Today she is not a victim, but a survivor, and she shares her story with others in an effort to help both children and adults who have been similarly victimized. Her courage is remarkable, and her recovery, which she credits to “the grace of God,” is nothing short of miraculous.

Melissa’s story reflects a growing national crisis. All across the country -- from Miami to Salem, Ore. -- human traffickers have preyed on the most vulnerable members of our society. Indeed, the Global Slavery Index estimates that between 57,000 and 63,000 people are currently living in slavery in the United States. Additionally, experts estimate that close to 300,000 American children are now at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

Unfortunately, despite these trends, trafficking is still not being treated as an urgent public concern. The people fighting to prevent this awful scourge, to stop it in its tracks, and to provide restoration to victims, still lack adequate resources and tools. For that matter, current law does not go far enough in bringing everyone responsible for these heinous crimes to justice.

With all that in mind, I have co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that would shine a national spotlight on the crisis of human trafficking and take several important steps to apprehend the criminals and assist the victims.

The bill I introduced, along with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is known as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. It would boost federal support for the anti-trafficking work done by organizations such as For the Sake of One, the group founded by Melissa Woodward. The act would establish a Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund, which would allocate tens of millions of dollars each year to combat human trafficking and to help the victims of these crimes rebuild their lives.

Our bill also would improve law-enforcement tools to crack down on criminal networks that engage in human trafficking, including those who knowingly contribute to the crime through the purchase of commercial sex with a child or victim. Too often, law-enforcement officials focus only on the sellers and suppliers of trafficking victims, while ignoring purchasers who create the demand that fuels this horrendous industry. My bill would help make sure that all human traffickers -- buyers and sellers alike -- are brought to justice.

Finally, it would improve the availability of restitution and witness assistance for trafficking victims by directing the proceeds of forfeited criminal assets to brave survivors in need of restoration.

The funding for this legislation would come entirely from the fines and penalties imposed on criminals convicted of child pornography, child prostitution, sexual exploitation, human trafficking or commercial human smuggling offenses at the federal level.

At a time when Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on much in Washington, the proposal has attracted broad bipartisan support. It was approved as an amendment by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote on Sept. 18, and a companion bill authored by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, unanimously passed the House in May. I am hoping we can send it to President Barack Obama’s desk as soon as possible.

Members of both parties understand that the fight against human trafficking is not a political issue; it is a humanitarian issue. We must do everything possible to support heroic survivors like Melissa Woodward as they help other victims break the cycle of exploitation, overcome the pain of their experiences, and start a new life.

A former Texas Attorney General, Sen. Cornyn serves on the Finance and Judiciary Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee.



Trafficking seminar

Learn more about human trafficking Monday, Dec. 8, as Dr. Patrice Broderick of La Vernia presents a “Faces & Masks of Human Trafficking” seminar from 7-8 p.m. in Witte’s Bar-B-Que restaurant on U.S. 87 in La Vernia. Broderick aims to raise awareness about this social problem and crime in our U.S. communities, with informative speakers, including Jannie Thomas of Ransomed Life, Sgt. Bill Grayson with the San Antonio Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, and Rudy Rodriguez, a former Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent.

For information, contact Broderick at 210-413-8298 or profiler1@lavernia.net.

 
 
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