By Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas)
You don’t have to tell us that Republicans and Democrats do not agree on much these days in Congress. Whether the subject is to repeal Obamacare or raise the nation’s minimum wage, Congressional Republicans and Democrats—for the most part—line up along party lines, and it is easy to then assume that all issues in Washington are inherently partisan.
But members of Congress are more than members of political parties. We are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmothers and grandfathers. And this common bond unites us together stronger than the bonds of partisanship. We absolutely must protect our nation’s children just as we protect the children who are in our homes and in our families.Last June, Republican and Democratic women members of the House of Representatives joined forces to sign a proclamation that “Our Daughters are Not for Sale” where they declared a shared commitment to end human trafficking and exploitation of American girls.
And thankfully it was not long until the men followed suit with a “Fathers of Congress” event with members from both parties and both representatives and senators coming together for one single purpose: giving their voices to help girls in the United States who are being bought and sold for sex.
As for the two of us, even though we come from different parts of the country and are registered in different political parties, the facts about human trafficking in the United States haunt us equally. Unfortunately, many girls and boys are arrested and charged with prostitution. A child who is not of the age to consent to sex cannot be a prostitute and should not be arrested at all but rather treated for what they are: victims. And the men who exploit children should never be called johns but should rightfully be called child abusers.
A recent study cited by the Department of Justice concluded that at least 100,000 young people are at risk for commercial exploitation.
According to the DOJ, the average age of entry for child sex trafficking victims in the United States is 12-14 years old.
And, not surprisingly, some of the nation’s most vulnerable children are most at-risk of being trafficked. In fact, cities throughout the nation report that the vast majority of child victims of trafficking are current or former foster youth. Additionally, the National Runaway Hotline concluded that one in three teens on the street will be lured into the sex trade within 48 hours of leaving home.
A national problem requires a national answer. Members of Congress from both sides are working across the aisle to advance a number of bills to prevent trafficking, protect and serve victims, and prosecute exploiters.
For example, the “Justice for Human Trafficking Act” and the “End Sex Trafficking Act” have attracted Democrats and Republicans from across the country and the ideological spectrum because they will greatly increase victims' access to services, curb the demand that is fueling the child sex trafficking market, and punish individuals who purchase underage girls for sex.
To better protect our foster youth from exploitation, there are the bi-partisan “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act” and the “Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act.” These bills will ensure that child welfare agencies are better equipped to prevent victimization and provide the appropriate services to foster youth who have been exploited.
These bills will also enable us to collect essential information in order to understand the scope of child trafficking in our states and communities and monitor trends.
When it comes to helping the children most in need, we have removed our partisan blinders to focus on well thought-out and practical solutions.
Now it’s time for Congress to take action and move our bills into law.
Our nation’s future depends on it.
Bass has represented California's 37th Congressional District since 2011. She sits on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees. Poe has represented Texas's 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Judiciary and the Foreign Affairs committees.