Congress continues to work together in a bipartisan manner on an issue that grabs headlines throughout the country and here in Northern Virginia. Human trafficking is a growing global criminal enterprise that knows no bounds. Nearly 300 victims of human trafficking have been identified in Northern Virginia from October 2013 through January 2015. This scourge that targets our young and vulnerable is in our very own backyard.
To effectively combat human trafficking we need to give our law enforcement the tools they need to do their job. Earlier this month, the House passed and the president signed into law H.R. 515, the International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders. This important bipartisan legislation, which I co-sponsored, will protect children worldwide from sexual predators who want to do them harm by better tracking their movements and travel. It is imperative that law enforcement on the international level constantly talk with one another so that these predators do not slip through the cracks.
We also need to have assets other than law enforcement who can spot when something just seems out of place. That is why I teamed up with Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-Nev.) this month in introducing the Secure Our Skies (SOS) Act. This legislation will require airline industry employees to get the proper training to recognize and report human trafficking. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said the legislation “…can save lives with 100,000 trained eyes in the sky.” The SOS Act is the type of common sense legislation that will help combat human trafficking because it uses the power of those in the airline industry as a force multiplier. Just last week, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on which I serve, passed Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation that incorporated much of this human trafficking bill.
These pieces of legislation are part of a multipronged bipartisan approach to rooting out human traffickers. So far in the 114th Congress I have co-sponsored ten pieces of legislation on human trafficking and become a member of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus. Last year, S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, one of the most comprehensive pieces of anti-human trafficking legislation, passed the House. The legislation provides restitution to victims of these horrible crimes and increases the punishment for those who profit from them. It also recognizes child pornography as a form of human trafficking and subjects perpetrators to stricter punishment. This legislation, which I cosponsored, was signed into law by the president last year.
One of the most important ways to address human trafficking is to shed light on this dark subject through public education. As part of our office’s 10th Congressional District Young Women Leadership Program, I have had panels with local law enforcement and a number of human trafficking nonprofits including Just Ask VA and Polaris to discuss human trafficking with middle and high school aged girls. We have also participated in a number of other forums in churches, libraries and schools throughout the Northern Virginia region. An effective way to combat human trafficking is to acknowledge the problem and raise awareness, and these forums have succeeded in bringing our community together to do just that. It is reassuring to know that our community is fully engaged on this important issue.
At the local level, in Congress, and even in the skies, people are more aware now of human trafficking than they were in the past. But more needs to be done because these predators are constantly changing tactics on how they take advantage of those who are vulnerable. The saying “if you see something, say something” applies to human trafficking as well. So please, if you see something that is out of sorts contact local law enforcement. Or if you, a friend, or a loved one you think may have been targeted or caught up in this growing criminal enterprise, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text “Be Free” to 233733. To beat the traffickers we all must be united and on guard.