WASHINGTON, January 29 -
Mr. Speaker, I want to talk and address the House on a more serious note this afternoon, and it has to do with not the economy, it doesn't have to do with money or the debt, all those things that all Americans are concerned about, but it is dealing with something that, to me, is really serious, if not more serious, because it has to do with people--children, primarily. What I am talking about is something that we thought doesn't happen in this country anymore, and that is slavery.
Yes, we still have slavery throughout the world today in 2014. It is called human sex trafficking. And what we are talking about, and what I am talking about, has consequences throughout the United States. It is not just happening in foreign countries. It is not just isolated and happening a little bit. The scourge is happening throughout the world and, yes, has even come to the United States. That is one reason why this is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
It is vital that mothers and fathers understand the crime of human trafficking. I have four kids and I have 11 grandkids. Children are the greatest resource that the country has, and things are happening to them that a lot of Americans are unaware of, and it happens in our neighborhoods.
Here is how it happens, a small example that happened in Houston. A young girl goes to the mall, like teenagers do, middle schoolers. Parents drop kids off at the mall on a Saturday, for example, and then come pick them up later in the day. The young girl was there with some others. She got to talking to a young male. When you think of sex traffickers, a lot of them think of the old guy in the trench coat. No. Many of them are young people.
A good-looking guy in his early twenties starts talking to this young girl, and before you know it, they hit up a good conversation and he starts telling her things that she wants to hear. He buys a few things for her there in the mall. Before you know it, she is picked up, and he and this young girl, this middle schooler, go somewhere in a car. But they disappear into the Houston community, because now she has been kidnapped and is used, unfortunately, in the sex trade, in the sex slavery trade as a young teenage girl.
These traffickers will find young girls anywhere. They will find them at salons. They will go to massage parlors. Human trafficking occurs in many different places. Sometimes there are storefronts that are for one business, but it is nothing more than a outlet of sex trafficking, and traditional businesses, unfortunately, are nothing more than fronts for forced prostitution of minors. They are held and forced to have sex with others for money so the trafficker can get money, and that filthy lucre goes to the slave trader. It happens in far-off places, and it happens in America.
The victims are the ones I want to talk about today. There are domestic victims in the United States like the girl I mentioned in Houston, and there are international victims in other countries, and they are trafficked into the United States or throughout the United States for two purposes: for sex or for labor, forced labor.
I have recently been to Central America and South America--Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and even Peru--and I have been able to see the sex trade, the sex trafficking business in those countries. It happens domestically in those countries as well as other countries throughout the world, but some of those girls are forced to come to the United States--not all of them, but some of them are. And be mindful, we do have girls in the United States who are transported throughout the country, domestic sex trafficking.
I got to talk to some of these young girls in the shelters about their lives. I met one girl. I asked her, How did this happen to you? And she said, Well, when I was 9 years old, my mother sold me to a trafficker for a cell phone. And she got sold for a phone for mom, and then she goes into the sex trafficking business. After they reach a certain age, then they just disappear into the society. This girl was rescued in Guatemala. There are shelters that help these young girls.
I got to talk to several of these girls. And we are talking about the youngest that I met was 7, and they go all the way up to 17 to be minors. But I got to talk to some girls, five of them in one shelter, that were 12 years of age or younger--five of them. There were other girls in the shelter. These five girls I talked to, Mr. Speaker, all had children that were the product of forcible rape by one of the customers that had abused them.
It is sex slavery, and it is sex trafficking throughout the world. They are forced into terrible, abusive conditions, whether it is work slavery or whether it is prostitution, forced prostitution.
There are also young women--and males, too, but primarily young women--that are trafficked in our own neighborhoods for sexual servitude. As many as 100,000 children in the United States a year are at risk for sexual exploitation. And worldwide, Mr. Speaker, trafficking is a billion-dollar business. It is a $32-billion business a year. That is just a number, but what does that mean? That trafficking criminal activity is second only to narcotics trafficking in the United States or in the world. The difference between trafficking or selling drugs is that, when you sell drugs, the product is sold one time; but when you traffic young children, the trafficker sells that young child numerous times, numerous times a day.
And the consequences are much less for trafficking children than they are for trafficking drugs. That is another issue we need to resolve. But the consequences are something that keeps this dastardly crime operating.
Mr. Speaker, these traffickers are so bold that they brand these young girls with tattoos so that other traffickers, or pimps, whichever you want to call them, know that this property belongs to this trafficker. They will brand them somewhere on their body.
The New York Times, Mr. Speaker, has reported that a girl in New York City was branded with a barcode so that her trafficker could keep up with her whereabouts. Barcodes. Barcodes are put on property. And I think this should be disturbing that this is happening to young children in the United States.
Where do traffickers operate? They operate wherever there is a business. Unfortunately, they operate at big sporting events like the Super Bowl. New Jersey and New York have done an excellent job preparing for this year's Super Bowl by warning parents, warning children, and warning people who come to New York about the issue of sex trafficking, especially of children.
So what can we do? What should we do about this issue that is taking place in other countries and the United States? The first thing we need to do is to treat these children like victims rather than criminals. They are treated like criminals.
When the police go out and they go into an area and they raid that area, they take these girls who are forced into prostitution. Many times they file criminal charges on them. Now, in all fairness to the police, there are not places to put trafficking victims. There are just not enough shelters. But they are treated and observed by the community as criminals as opposed to victims. So we must change the mindset and laws in this country to treat them as victims, because that is what they are. They are victims of criminal conduct. They are not criminals themselves.
The second thing we need to do is to prosecute those that are involved, and that includes not just the trafficker, but that includes the demand, that includes the customer, that includes, as it is said in the trade, the john, who seems to get away with this miserable conduct.
And the third thing we need to do is to raise awareness in all communities about this scourge.
It is unfortunate that my hometown of Houston, Texas, has become a major hub of this crime because of our interstates, our ports, our airports, and our proximity to the southern border. So young girls are smuggled into this area of Houston and then farmed out throughout the United States as property.
Of course, it is something that people are aware of in our Houston community, and law enforcement is doing a good job to make folks aware of this crime and working together to close these places where these young children are trafficked. Other communities throughout the country are following the example of law enforcement--the media, government officials, nonprofits, churches, and communities working together--to stop this type of conduct.
We need to be aware that it occurs. Denial seems to be the biggest problem in the United States. People I have talked to of all backgrounds don't believe that this is an issue, don't believe that this is a problem and do not want to believe that this criminal conduct is occurring. And it is. It is occurring right in the United States.
I have recently introduced some legislation along with Carolyn Maloney from New York, bipartisan legislation. It certainly is bipartisan if it is Carolyn Maloney, who is from New York and a Democrat, and, of course, I am a Texas Republican. We get through the language barrier, but we have been able to file this legislation that is excellent. It is the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. It is also bipartisan. The Senate has filed our same bill over there. Senator Cornyn from Texas and Senator Wyden from Oregon have filed the same bill in the Senate.
This bill looks at this problem in a broad scope. Hopefully, we will pass this bill because it will go a long way to solving this problem that we have. What it does is it focuses first on rescuing the victims of the crime.
Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding, according to Shared Hope International, that in the United States there are 220-plus beds for minor trafficking sex victims--220-plus. That is all. The SPCA says there are 5,000 animal shelters in the United States, as there should be.
There are no shelters, not even that many shelters for the young women that are trafficked throughout the country. So we need to focus on the victims, take them out of the criminal justice system and put them in shelters, and find an avenue and funds to do that. We need to rescue the victims. That is our most important job. No matter where that victim is from, we must rescue them out of that environment that they have been forced into, into this modern day slavery.
What it does to create revenue--because we are always talking about money; where are we going to get money--this doesn't create new funds, in the sense that it is a tax requirement. What it does is it allows Federal judges, when they have these people before them, they not only have the ability to put them in prison, where they should, but in similar crimes like trafficking, prosecution and trafficking, and other types of crimes, Federal judges can impose a fee on the defendant, and that money goes into a special fund that helps victims of crime. It gives them the resources for those shelters. It gives law enforcement resources to investigate this criminal conduct. So it makes those criminals pay the rent on the courthouse, pay for the system that they have created by imposing judges, imposing fines and fees on them, and that money is specifically used not to bring down the debt, but it is specifically used to help victims of criminal conduct. I think that is something that is important that we do.
It also goes a little bit further, and it starts enforcing our punishment for these criminals. What I mean by that, the law in the country is pretty good to punish the trafficker, but the person who is getting away with all of this conduct is the demand. The customer is getting away. If there wasn't a demand, this act wouldn't be happening, but the system lets that person, unfortunately, get away with it.
Now the law will be changed, if it passes, that the demand, the customer, the john, can get the same punishment as the trafficker. Not only that, we apply the RICO statute, the racketeering statute, to let it be used in organized crime. In other words, you have the hotel clerk, the cab driver, the pimp, the john, all working together to have this victim abused, and the RICO statute can be applied to all of those people involved in that criminal conduct, and they can all be punished accordingly. So hold all of those individuals accountable for their conduct because it is important that they be treated and punished for the conduct of sex slavery against victims of children.
Mr. Speaker, slavery was supposed to end in the United States in 1865, but this new form of slavery deals with destroying the dignity, the self-worth, the hope, the soul of certain people; women primarily, young women primarily.
If we don't do anything else in this country in this congressional session, we need to understand that this problem, this scourge, is affecting the quality of life of people--females, young children. We have an obligation to rescue them, let them understand that we are on their side, and let them once again have some dignity, have some self-worth, and have some hope because that is what we are supposed to do in life, to take care of people.
So I thank the Speaker for allowing me to make these comments on the House floor. Let's rescue the victims, treat them like they should be treated, and then punish the traffickers and those that seek the demand for this, and treat them like they should be treated, and that means put them in the jailhouse for a long time because that is where they belong.
And that's just the way it is.