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May 20, 2014 at 6:03 AM

U.S. House should pass anti-sex trafficking bills, crack down on Backpage.com

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote as early as Tuesday on several anti-sex trafficking bills. With broad support from members of both parties, these sweeping measures ought to have no problems getting passed off the floor and sent over to the U.S. Senate.

Take a look at the problem by the numbers:

  • In the U.S., up to 300,000 children are at risk of being sold for sex each year. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice)
  • Pimps and traffickers report making between $5,000 and $32,833 each week. (Source: Urban Institute)
  • In King County, conservative estimates show that between 300 and 500 boys and girls under the age of 18 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation every day. (Source: King County)

If they do indeed pull it off, then Americans should give lawmakers a rare pat on the back for working through their normally toxic relationship. Uniting behind victims of sexual exploitation is a no-brainer. But the legislation before the U.S. House this week creates some substantive changes. (The Seattle Times editorial board published a May 11 editorial in support of three of the proposed laws.) If Congress feels inspired enough to find consensus on this widespread problem, who knows. It could create enough goodwill for members to return to the table to resolve other stalled reform efforts (i.e. immigration).

One of the bills up for consideration, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, has caught some flak from Internet freedom advocates. To address their concerns, Samantha Vardaman, the senior director of policy for Shared Hope International, says the House Judiciary Committee amended the legislation on May 15 to ensure that federal charges and penalties are applied only to those websites that “knowingly” advertise minors.

That wording change raises the burden of proof for prosecutors and means the SAVE Act might not stop the posting of advertisements featuring commercially sexually exploited children. What’s to stop Backpage.com and its copycats from simply saying they didn’t know that photos posted on their sites are underage or victims of trafficking?

The SAVE Act is still a first step toward better, stronger policies in the future.

“It’s a thoughtful approach to introducing liability in a way that doesn’t exist currently,” Vardaman said over the phone.

Below is a list of the bills expected to be fast-tracked on Tuesday, courtesy of House Republican leadership:

1) H.R. 3530 Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2013 (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe / Judiciary Committee)

2) H.R. 3610 Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen / Judiciary Committee / Education and the Workforce Committee)

3) H.R. 4225 Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner / Judiciary Committee)

4) H.R. 4058 Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, as amended (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert / Ways and Means Committee)

5) H.R. 4573 International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking, as amended (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith / Foreign Affairs Committee / Judiciary Committee)

6) H.Res. 573 Condemning the abduction of female students by armed militants from the terrorist group known as Boko Haram in northeastern provinces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended (Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson / Foreign Affairs Committee)

Comments | Topics: backpage, congress, sex trafficking

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