A unified House of Representatives on Tuesday was on its way to approving a slate of bills aimed at clamping down on the sex trafficking of children in the United States, along with a resolution condemning the kidnapping of hundreds of young girls in Nigeria by the group Boko Haram.
The bills found broad support from members of both parties, a rare show of unity from Republicans and Democrats that have found themselves in bitter fights over spending, taxes and government oversight.
Members debating the bills for most of the afternoon, and were on track to pass them in the early evening. The debate featured members of both parties, many who had stories about sex trafficking patterns in their home state.
House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) opened the debate by saying the term sex trafficking is too soft a term for what happens to thousands of young boys and girls around the country each year.
“We are here on the floor today to talk about minor sex trafficking – or, to put it more accurately, the rape of children, by adults, for a profit,” he said.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), is aimed at providing more resources to law enforcement to fight child sex trafficking, and boosting penalties against people who look to buy the services of traffickers.
“They can go to the same penitentiaries as the traffickers for stealing the soul, the youth of America’s greatest resource, our children,” Poe said of the johns who seek out these services.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the girls in Nigeria are a reminder of how often young girls are “kidnapped and terrorized, sold like objects into a lifetime of forceable rape,” both in the U.S. and abroad.
“There is no crime on Earth more appalling, no offense as terrible, no act of depravity as harmful to the community of a nation and certainly to the individuals affected,” she said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the U.S. government estimates that between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are at risk each year of being taken away and turned into sex slaves for adults, and said the House effort is aimed at stopping these crimes.
“These bills aim to protect and help domestic and international victims, capture their exploiters, and provide additional tools to prosecutors,” he said. “We will do all of this in pursuit of our ultimate goal of ending human trafficking, both domestically and abroad.”
Another bill up in the House today include one aimed at encouraging states to treat child victims of sex trafficking as victims, not prostitutes to be booked by the police.
Other bills considered by the House would crack down on groups that host ads for people involved in human trafficking, which calls for minimum mandatory sentences against these groups; punish traffickers who try to use the U.S. visa system to bring sex trafficking victims to the United States; and boost services to help kids who are rescued from traffickers.
Members were also due to consider a non-binding resolution on Nigeria that the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved earlier this month. The resolution condemns the kidnapping and Boko Haram, and encourages further U.S. work with Nigeria to find the girls.