Ranking Member Conyers Statement at Child Trafficking Hearing
(WASHINGTON) – Today, the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security held a hearing entitled, “Innocence for Sale: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.” During his opening remarks, Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) delivered the following statement:
John Conyers, Jr.
“Today’s hearing examines the growing epidemic of minor sex trafficking, an absolutely abhorrent practice, that each year entraps more than 100,000 minors - roughly between the age 12 and 14 - into prostitution or child pornography. Although these children come from all socio-economic classes, races, and genders, they all share in common their vulnerability. As we begin our focus on this issue, it must be recognized that these children are victims; they are not criminals, and they should not be treated so,” said Conyers.
“Predators seize upon the insecurities and weakness of these children, whether they are runaways and shelter youth, kids in foster care, or just ‘throwaways’ who have been emotionally and psychologically neglected their whole lives. As such, they are particularly vulnerable to pimps, predators, and sex traffickers through violence, coercion, and fraud. And, when children who have fallen prey to the sex trade are treated as criminals rather than victims, this just further compounds their injuries. They become very afraid to seek help, particularly from law enforcement because of the risk that they will be treated as criminals rather than victims. Instead of criminalizing what these children do, we must ensure that they are recognized for what they: victims.
“Second, much more needs to be done to improve how we assist these horribly exploited children. They are physically traumatized, often being sold for 10 to 15 sex acts per night. One child may be raped more than 5,000 times in a single year. The extent of the resultant emotional and psychological trauma they endure is hard to fathom. These victims - in order to regain their lives - must receive specialized counseling, educational services, and housing to ensure their physical and mental rehabilitation. Without these specialized programs, these young boys and girls often run away to return back to their abusers because of the unique trauma bonding that occurs between the victim and the trafficker. Yet, there are far too few shelter beds available nationwide to provide for the unique needs of children crushed by the commercial sex trade. We owe it to these youngsters and to our society to help them overcome the horrors that they have been put through.
“Lastly, we must consider how technology and the Internet have enabled the minor sex trafficking business and what this industry can do to help law enforcement stop this crime. After our last hearing on minor sex trafficking in 2010, Craigslist shut down its ‘adult services’ section, which was a primary source of online advertising for the commercial sex trade for both adults and minors. However, this may have been a Pyrrhic victory. Online sex trafficking has continued, but now in a more dispersed fashion. For example, Backpage.com has roughly 70% of the market share of Internet advertising for the sex trade. It is critical that effective ways for law enforcement to collaborate with these companies be developed so that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are ultimately brought to justice. We must also consider how to rein in the use of decentralized advertising and foreign-based entities that increasingly disseminate this advertising. And, we must also explore how to better educate minors to avoid online predators. More than ever, pimps and traffickers are using social networking sites to coerce and cajole vulnerable children into the sex trade by preying on their insecurities.
“To conclude, I hope that this will be the beginning of a larger discussion that will include human trafficking and labor trafficking. For now, however, I am sure that we can come together in a bipartisan manner to address the evils of juvenile sex trafficking and to find ways that will improve the lives of the far too many children who have already been exploited. We have addressed similar issues in the past, and we should look to such legislation for guidance. For instance, we should consider effectuating a national standard of care for victims of juvenile sex trafficking, just as past Congresses have for victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, to ensure that the these youths receive proper care. Portions of Mr. Poe’s bill will also serve this cause well, as it recognizes the need to greatly improve services to children affected by the scourge of sex trafficking by setting up a revenue neutral fund to provide them aid and creates block grants for sex trafficking deterrence. We should also take steps to curb demand by assisting state and local agencies enforce laws that are already on the books when it comes to dealing with ‘johns’ who patronize minors, as this is a key component in fighting the exploitation of minors. However, we must be careful in creating new federal laws and mandatory minimums in this area, as new federal mandatory minimums for ‘johns’ may lead to unintended consequences.
“, the Task Force on Over-Criminalization will be holding a hearing on the over-federalization of criminal laws, and this is just such an instance where state laws that are in place may be just as, or even more effective, in combating demand when they are enforced than a new federal mandatory minimum. I know that we can work together to bring an end to the evils of juvenile sex trafficking, and I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses.”