This post was updated at 6:50pm ET
In an effort to curtail the illegal trafficking of adults and children in the U.S., the House of Representative passed five anti-human trafficking bills Tuesday, brought forward by Republican leadership.
All five bills, which aim to do everything from providing additional funding for authorities tackling the problem to requiring states to identifying youth in foster care who have fallen prey to the sex trafficking world, passed with bipartisan support. House leadership is confident that related bills voted on Tuesday will meet a similar fate in the Senate.“This is not an issue that breaks out on partisan lines,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.
The votes were brought to the House floor at the same time as the U.S. joins the search for hundreds of Nigerian girls who were abducted from their school and possibly sold into human slavery by Islamic extremists. Representatives took to the House floor to remind their fellow members that trafficking is an issue that occurs not just miles away, but often on U.S. soil as well.
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, which passed Tuesday, focuses on treating children involved in sex trafficking as victims, not as criminals when dealing with law enforcement. It also allows victims of trafficking to be eligible for Job Corps, a free educational and vocational training program.
A bill that would require states to identify and protect victims of trafficking that pass through the foster care system and a bill that would require the U.S. to notify foreign nations when convicted pedophiles travel to their country, known as International Megan's Law, passed by voice vote as well.
An estimated 300,000 children are at risk for sex trafficking in the U.S. The average age for victims is 13-years-old, and the illegal sex trade is estimated to be a $9.5 billion industry in the U.S. alone. “The idea that our children in this country, in this day, could be taken into modern slavery is terrifying,” Cantor said during a press conference prior to Tuesday’s vote. “We must protect our children.”
A fourth bill, The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was also brought to the floor for a vote on Tuesday and later passed unanimously. Sponsored by Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), it would require buyers of sex victims to be prosecuted as serious offenders and provides additional funding for authorities to better combat trafficking. “A child can be sold multiple times a day,” said Poe on Tuesday. “There is a boldness, an arrogance… They think they can get away with it. Those days are over.”
A fifth, more controversial bill targeting online advertisements of child sex trafficking victims is also passed Thursday 392-19. Called Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, it would make knowingly advertising a child victim online a federal crime. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) opposed the act because it includes a mandatory minimum sentence, which he calls destructive given their impact on boosting the prison population. "The only way to begin stopping mandatory minimums is to stop passing new ones," Scott said.