WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 23, 2014 -
Each year an estimated 300,000 innocent children fall victim to sex trafficking right here in the United States. The victims can be homeless or runaway youth; others are simply taken from their parents in the blink of an eye. The victims’ families are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones.
As a father of two and grandfather of four, for me it is impossible to fathom the pain and suffering they must feel, knowing their son or daughter is trapped in a modern-day slave trade filled with darkness and hopelessness. While we will never fully comprehend the grief these families are forced to bear, we can as a nation fight this heinous crime with every tool available.
There are heroic efforts underway right now to locate victims of youth sex trafficking and return them to their families. Last week, the Education and the Workforce Committee had an opportunity to hear from John Ryan, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The center plays a vital role in a national effort to protect vulnerable youth, leading a partnership among law enforcement, government agencies, and private ventures like Honeywell, Google, and Lifetouch.
In my home state of Minnesota, the center has helped resolve cases involving 1,699 endangered runaways and 373 family abductions. The center’s 24-hour CyberTipline has provided law enforcement more than two million leads of child sexual exploitation.
The center and its staff provide an invaluable service to families; they stand on the front lines of this critical battle each and every day. Despite these and other achievements, we know more can be done to protect our most vulnerable youth.
Right now many kids are falling through the cracks of child welfare systems. Often they are not properly identified as sex trafficking victims when they enter the system and are then lost in the shuffle once they are in state custody. And too often runaway and homeless youth who are victims of sex trafficking do not receive the special help they need.
That is why I strongly support this legislation, which will enhance existing services for runaway and homeless youth. I am also proud to support legislation we will consider in just a few moments that will improve how state child welfare systems identify and respond to victims of youth sex trafficking. Finally, we will also consider legislation that ensures victims are properly identified when reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline.
We have to do more to address this national crisis. The bills the House is considering today move our country in the right direction. I am humbled to help lead this bipartisan effort and urge my colleagues to support the legislation.
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