Time to Put an End to Sex Trafficking

When you hear the words ‘sex trafficking’ or ‘human trafficking’, we often think that this is something that only takes place in some other country far away. The truth is traffickers are exploiting young girls for their own financial gain right here in our own communities. It’s happening in our cities, suburbs, and rural towns.

Last year I visited The Family Partnership, one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. During that visit, I met Dayanna, the oldest child in a family raised by a single mother. While she took it upon herself to take care of her brothers and sisters, she still longed for somebody to give her love and attention. She was seduced by a man who promised to treat her the way she deserved. He even called himself her boyfriend. At age 13, Dayanna ran away with him. Within days, she found herself being trafficked in Chicago and Philadelphia, without a home and separated from her family. Only a daring jump from a second story window allowed her to escape.

Many might think that if Dayanna had come from a different family situation, she wouldn’t have been trafficked. Sadly, this isn’t true. Another nonprofit in Minnesota is Brittany’s Place, named after a young woman who was violently raped and murdered. Unlike Dayanna, Brittany had a loving mother and family; she worked with children at a local recreation center and taught dance classes. Despite these circumstances, Brittany was also a victim sex trafficking, eventually resulting in her death.  As Brittany’s mother Marquita said to me, “It doesn’t matter if victims have a home, because if sex trafficking can happen to my daughter, it can happen to any young girl.”

And sadly, many trafficking victims are young girls that are just 12, 13, or 14 years old. They’re not old enough to have graduated from high school, voted in an election, or even passed their driver’s tests.

Unfortunately, in most states they would be considered criminals that should be incarcerated and charged with prostitution instead of being treated as victims. Criminalization only traumatizes these girls and isolates them from the community and services they need and deserve. That’s why we need safe harbor laws to ensure that these girls are treated as victims. By bringing these victims out of the shadows, we can make sure they get the services they need and work with law enforcement to bring the actual criminals to justice.

That’s why I’ve authored the bipartisan Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act that encourages states to adopt ‘safe harbor’ laws and protect the victims of this horrific crime. Sex trafficking isn’t a problem that can be solved by one group working alone. It will take collaboration and cooperation to find solutions. That’s why this legislation is so important and why together, we can end human trafficking.

— Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Min)

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