Human depravity takes many forms. But it is hard to imagine one more repugnant than that in which vulnerable children are coerced into prostitution by adults.
Sadly, we don’t have to imagine it; it is reality.
U.S. victims of human trafficking are often teenage runaways who have been abandoned by or are estranged from abusive families. The perpetrators pretend to offer shelter or protection or love. Some of their young victims are beaten, held captive in hotel rooms and rundown rentals and subjected to psychological torture.
Human sex trafficking — and its evil twin, the forced labor of poor, uneducated foreign nationals imported to the U.S. — is ubiquitous and nearly invisible.
But we know it’s here.
Precise figures on the incidence of human trafficking in Michigan and elsewhere are elusive. But government and law enforcement officials generally agree that it is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
An ongoing FBI-led investigation called Operation Cross Country resulted last year in the arrest of 152 sex traffickers and the rescue of 106 juvenile trafficking victims. The highest number of suspects (18) of any jurisdiction were arrested in Michigan, along with the second highest number of child victims (10) removed from the poisonous environment of human trafficking. Many of both the suspects and victims were nominal residents of Macomb County.
But more can and should be done.
Congress enacted the first comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 (It was re-authorized a year ago), aimed at combating both forced labor and prostitution.
This week, the House is scheduled to take up several initiatives that call for:
■ The creation of state-level “safe harbor” laws for the victims of trafficking who are forced into acts of prostitution, allowing them to be treated as victims in need of services, not criminals.
■ Increased funding for victims services (above the $28 million allocated in the 2014 budget).
■ Additional anti-trafficking enforcement tools for federal prosecutors.
■ Protection of youth in foster care from exploitation.
I support them all.
The Department of Homeland Security also has developed useful tools for citizens and public officials, to aid in the identification of suspected trafficking and how to respond.
Traffickers prey on vulnerable or desperate young people by offering promises of employment, protection or a better life. They cruelly betray those promises, providing instead intimidation, physical punishment and deprivation.
Their actions are truly contemptible, and negatively impact the lives of their child victims forever.
They are also intolerable. We can demonstrate they won’t be tolerated by concerted and coordinated action to drive human traffickers out of business and into prison.
Those who traffic in humans need to be caught, prosecuted, and made to understand a decent society will not stand idly by.
U.S. Rep Candice Represents Michigan’s 10th District