by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney

The exploitation of some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens through the scourge of human trafficking is a global tragedy. This form of 21st-century slavery, whether for the commercial sex trade or for forced labor, is a serious human rights violation and an immoral affront to the innate dignity of every human being.

Human trafficking is a $10 billion worldwide industry. According to the State Department, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders for labor and commercial sex purposes each year. However, trafficking is not just a problem in other countries; it is happening in the United States in communities across the country.

The lives of trafficking victims are pure horror. Many are tricked into the country, fooled into believing that they’ll be doing legitimate jobs. They arrive, often with limited English skills, and have everything taken from them – their documents are held by the trafficker, if they have any. They see very little of the money they earn. They are cut off from the outside world, have no freedom of movement and no friends or relatives to help them.

I became involved in the fight to end human trafficking several years ago when I learned that Big Apple Oriental Tours was promoting sex tourism in the congressional district that I represent. Since then, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress to pass several important pieces of legislation to fight this horrible problem.

In 2005, I co-authored a measure with Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act, which provides law enforcement authorities the means to prosecute those who perpetuate human trafficking by purchasing sex acts.

Rep. Pryce and I knew that anti-trafficking efforts would be more effective if prosecutors were better able to target the purchasers of sex acts, as well as the traffickers themselves, and our legislation authorized $50 million for grants to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute persons who engage in the purchase of commercial sex acts. It passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law in 2006.

More recently, I joined with a bipartisan coalition of colleagues in the House to pass legislation, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3887), which will strengthen the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The bill passed the House with overwhelming support on Dec. 4. It will now be taken up for consideration by the Senate, and the broad grass-roots coalition promoting the bill will turn its focus there.

Our bill authorizes critical funding to combat trafficking and to help the victims. We have been working with a wide coalition of groups to ensure, among other things, that this legislation makes it easier to prosecute trafficking as a federal crime, expands penalties for sex tour operators, and quickly moves countries with bad trafficking records onto the list of countries that may be sanctioned.

Lastly, this important legislation would require the attorney general to ensure that a biennial survey of trafficking in the United States is conducted, as was originally required by provisions I authored in the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act.

The United States of America is the model for democracy and freedom across the world. Without a comprehensive law combating sex trafficking, America is not only turning a blind eye to the perils of modern day slavery, but it is also giving onlookers abroad the go-ahead to continue their abhorrent processes. Those who wish to help put an end to the scourge of sex trafficking should make their opinions felt – now.

Let there be no mistake: Sex trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is crucial for Congress to give prosecutors the necessary tools to hold the traffickers accountable. Call your senators and urge them to pass the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) represents New York’s 14th District.

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