On September 15, 2010, the culmination of many voices and a powerful idea finally found its way into the halls of the illustrious Rayburn Building. With a knock of the gavel, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) began his introduction, “Subcommittee will now come to order, and I am pleased to welcome you [to]…today’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The committee is hearing Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and specifically, H.R. 5575-Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010.”
This bill, sister to the Senate bill (S. 2925), was introduced by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) in June and has collected 24 co-sponsors. Despite the pending Congressional votes that day and the haste of a short session, the room was filled to capacity with listeners awaiting the testimonies of the two distinguished witness panels. Spectators even filtered into an overflow room to view the hearing via satellite; while, the most notable media in attendance included: CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN (Full Video Coverage) Washington Post, Christian Broadcast News, Al Jezeera, and Change.org
Though not every member of the Subcommittee was able to attend, Chairman Scott was joined by Ranking Member Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Lungren (R-CA), Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Rep. Poe (R-TX) for the hearing.
The first panel was comprised of five members, including our very own founder and President, former Congresswoman Linda Smith:
- Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (R-NY)
- Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA)
- Representative Ted Poe (R-TX)
- Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
The second witness panel included law enforcement, NGO representatives, a survivor, and an employee of Craigslist/ their attorney:
- Ms. Francey Hakes, National Coordinator for Child, Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, US Dept. of Justice
- Mr. Nicholas Sensley, Chief of Police, Truckee Police Dept., Truckee CA
- Mr. Ernie Allen, President & CEO, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Ms. Tina Frundt, Partner to SHI and Survivor and Executive Director/Founder, Courtney’s House
- Ms. Suzanna Tiapula, Director of National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse of the National District Attorneys Association
- Ms. Deborah Richardson, Chief Program Officer of Women’s Funding Network
- Mr. William “Clint” Powell, Director of Customer Service/Law Enforcement Relations, Craigslist, Inc.
- Ms. Elizabeth “Liz” McDougall, Partner at Perkins Coie, LLP, Craigslist, Inc. Representation
It is not often that so many organizations come together to give testimony for a single bill, and in light of the recent Craigslist allegations related to fostering minor sex trafficking via the Adult Services section on the company’s Web site, urgency for passage of the bill was unmistakable. H.R. 5575 authorizes the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to allocate six, one-year block grants of $2.5 million to create a victim-centered approach in addressing the sex-trafficking of minors. This includes placing a heavier focus on the necessity for proper shelters and services for victims, providing funding to improve resources for law enforcement agencies, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system of tracking data of missing and exploited children, and creating treatment programs in lieu of incarceration for those charged with solicitation of prostituted children. The bill also addresses deterrence tactics to prevent men from buying young girls for sex, including $2500 fees, vehicle impoundment, etc.
After brief introductory statements and comments from the members of the Subcommittee, the first round of testimony began with Rep. Carolyn Maloney poignantly describing the institution of sex trafficking as the recycling of human beings. The position and mindset of the Congressional panel was emulated by Rep. Ted Poe who recalled being told to “get a rope,” when he was serving as judge in Texas, to address perpetrators of sex exploitation.
Congressman Christopher Smith echoed the need for reformation by declaring this issue a huge and escalating crisis. He commended Rep. Speier for asserting that we need to do what the bill has outlined and expand on it ten-fold.
Former Congresswoman Linda Smith brought the first panel testimonies to a close by screening a short victim testimony video and giving a voice to the voiceless; she called her“Lacy”. Linda Smith discussed the issue of DEMAND for younger and younger victims as the driving force of this market. She implored the committee to understand that those who buy sex from innocent children should receive the full penalty under the law.
Panel Two & Questioning:
The main focus of the second panel was a reiteration of the need for resources, a reverberating sound of how prolific the use of the Internet to exploit children has grown (and not just on Craigslist) and the need for law enforcement to use this same technology to combat it. Rep. Poe said he wanted to the see the pictures of every buyer posted online and done more fervently than the traffickers post pictures of their girls.
The DOJ’s Innocence Lost Initiative was noted for making strides, but they need to capitalize on their progress. The 10 traffickers that have presently been indicted needs to become 1000; the approximate 1200 children rescued needs to look more like 10,000; and the 50 beds available for these rescued victims needs to become 50,000.
There is a social change that is needed, according to Mr. Ernie Allen. This was done to campaign against tobacco and for the use of seat belts, and now we need society to see the realities of the heinous crimes happening to our children in America. As Tina Frundt so powerfully stated, “We need this [change] yesterday!”
Once questioning concluded, Chairman Scott adjourned the hearing with the closing remarks, “This was a very powerful hearing. We can do a lot more if we focus our minds to it.” Focus our minds we must, and continue to take the needed steps e.g. Craigslist shutting down their adult services section, but more importantly, the American people need to re-sensitize their psyche and raise their voices to fight against Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.