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Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Trafficking Victims

On February 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Human Trafficking in the United States: Protecting the Victims.” The hearing focused on the importance of supporting victims of human trafficking in their efforts to heal.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) stated, “One young woman, now 20-years-old, had been a familiar face around the Preble Street Teen Center. She was in and out of the foster care system, and met other girls who introduced her to ‘survival sex’ – a way to trade sex for a place to sleep and other basic necessities. At age 16, she traded sex for a ride to Boston…She was sold to other pimps and endured physical abuse and violence for many years. When she eventually escaped and her traffickers were charged by police, she had nowhere to go but the local homeless shelter.” Sen. Collins added, “I am proud to join Ranking Member [Patrick] Leahy [(D-VT)] in reintroducing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Trafficking Prevention Act [S. 262] this Congress. Our bill reauthorizes those critical preventive and treatment services that help homeless youth around the country. The Street Outreach Program, Basic Center Programs, and Transitional Living Program have helped thousands of young homeless men and women meet their immediate needs and provided long-term residential services for those who cannot be safely reunified with family.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) stated, “The women of the Senate do not have a caucus…But we do try to find common ground where we can come together, not as a caucus, but as a force…That’s why the Senate women sent a letter requesting this hearing, because the Judiciary Committee is really the anchor committee to move ideas forward and to be able to work on the goal of eliminating human trafficking and to be able to advance our issue.” She continued, “According to the State Department, 800,000 individuals are trafficked every year across international borders. Interpol has identified this as a serious crime, because if you sell women and children, you will sell anything to anybody, under any circumstances…On behalf of the women in the Senate, but really everywhere, we want to thank the good men of this committee. This is not only a woman’s issue. This is a human being issue. This is a human rights issue.”

Malika Saada Saar, executive director, Human Rights for Girls, stated, “In any other context, what a ‘John’ does when he purchases a girl would be construed as statutory rape or sexual assault of a minor. There ought to be no difference between raping a child, and paying to rape a child. And yet there is. There is a culture of impunity for raping children when the act is paid for. Buyers of sex with underage girls are rarely arrested.” She continued, “That is why we desperately need a funding stream to create and implement safe homes and comprehensive programs for trafficked children. Over twenty years ago, the domestic violence movement made clear that when a man hit his wife, it was not simply a personal dispute or a private matter. It was an act of violence that had to be named and for which the perpetrator had to be held accountable.”

Michael Ferjak, senior criminal investigator, Human Trafficking and Enforcement Prosecution Initiative, Iowa Department of Justice, stated, “[Our captain] presents training on human trafficking to the Iowa Department of Public Safety basic academy each training cycle, as well as to law enforcement agencies across the state. As you can see from our mission statement and objectives we have three basic priorities: enforcement, victim services, and community awareness. As we began the task of learning what trafficking looked like in Iowa, it became apparent that two things were true: it has been present for many years and, secondly, law enforcement was not trained to identify and investigate it.” He continued, “The challenges facing law enforcement as it becomes more familiar with human trafficking are many, but in my opinion, the most critical is changing the way trafficking is discussed and understood by law enforcement and the public. We must change the paradigm and vocabulary to bring accurate understanding to how traffickers obtain their victims and control them.”

The following witnesses also testified:

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