Mr. Speaker, in her formative years, Lena wore turtlenecks and baggy clothes to school every day.
Why did she do so?
To hide the bruises that covered her entire body.
Soon, Lena’s abusive foster mother lost custody of her. And when her foster mother lost custody, Lena just ran away. She was 13.
After bolting from the front lawn at the Houston middle school, she ran into a friendly-looking stranger, and that is when she discovered a false sense of comfort in the hands of a dastardly human trafficker. He offered to look after her, protect her, and love her; that was if she made him a little money. And he offered her the one thing she was missing in her 13 years, someone who said they loved her.
Mr. Speaker, love doesn’t come with black eyes and bruises, however. The trafficker even promised Lena drugs so she could focus on something else while she was having sex with the buyers of children.
For the next 3 months, Lena would have many different traffickers and many different buyers. She would spend a few months or weeks with them, moving from motel to motel, then she would get scared and try to go back to foster care, and then just disappear again.
Finally, she was arrested after police responded to an internet post advertising sex with children. They arrested her trafficker in the hotel next door. With her help, the police ultimately charged two individuals with forcing a child into prostitution, or human trafficking, as we call it.
Upon her arrest, it was revealed that not only did she have three sexually transmitted diseases, she was also pregnant.
The problem then, Mr. Speaker, is that Lena had nowhere to go. Authorities found themselves with an abused, traumatized, demoralized trafficking victim, a child, on their hands. Remember, Lena was a victim of crime. She was not a criminal. Children cannot be willing prostitutes under the law.
But there were no resources to put her anywhere, no resources to get her help and the support that she needed. The very limited number of nearby trafficking shelters were all full and there was no place to send her, so she was locked up in the county jail.
Victims of trafficking, Mr. Speaker, do not belong in shackles and orange jumpsuits. They belong in safe, nurturing environments. They deserve to have access to resources and help to get their stolen lives back for them.
How can a victim begin to recover, while a child, languishing in jail?
The justice system failed Lena and many others just like her, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Lena deserves justice.
Sitting here in Washington, D.C., there is a victims’ fund totaling over $12 billion. Money in this fund comes from fines and fees imposed on convicted felons, people like deviants who trafficked Lena.
Unfortunately, year after year, only a small amount of this money is actually taken out of the fund to help victims. Most of it stays in the fund and is used by appropriators to offset the costs of their pet projects that have nothing to do with victims of crime.
This is not acceptable, Mr. Speaker. The money, remember, is not taxpayer money. It is money that comes from criminals when they are convicted in Federal court, and we should give this money to victims of crime.
Money in the fund should be spent only on what victims like Lena desperately need so that they can get their lives back together and recover from the trafficking abuse they suffered.
Lena and other trafficking victims deserve justice. They deserve the money that is in the fund, and bureaucrats need to quit using that money as an offset for other projects. The victim fund is partially the answer.
Mr. Speaker, this should be spent on victims of crime because no trafficking victim belongs in the shackles of a county jail.
And that is just the way it is.