Opinions

Taking the fight to end human trafficking to the federal, state and local levels

Amy Klobuchar is a Democratic senator from Minnesota and authored the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act. Cindy McCain is co-chair of the Arizona governor’s task force on human trafficking.

Joy Friedman was 15 years old when she was first sold for sex. A pimp found her and made all kinds of promises — promises that sounded pretty good to a scared kid away from home. Unfortunately, Joy’s story is not unique: Every day, girls and boys are sold in this country for sex. Their average age? Thirteen. That’s not old enough to get a driver’s license or go to a high school prom. While Joy was eventually able to escape, and has since devoted her life to helping victims of sex trafficking, many others are not so lucky.

This week, girls even younger than Joy are being advertised and sold for sex in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. Any major event attracts these trafficking rings, and the massive influx of people and the advertising blitz surrounding the Super Bowl make it an ideal setting for criminals who sell women and girls for sex. They plaster Web sites with ads boasting of “Super Bowl specials.” One study of online sex-for-sale ads at the 2011 Super Bowl, played outside Dallas, found that the number of ads nearly tripled from a Saturday in mid-January to the Saturday before the Super Bowl.

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That’s why we met recently with officials from the National Football League (NFL) to discuss ways to fight sex trafficking, which has thousands of victims in the United States. We have been working at the state and federal levels to fight this crime, and we asked the NFL to support strong anti-trafficking legislation to help these efforts. The NFL committed to doing so, and we look forward to partnering with it in the future.

We are pushing to pass legislation in states across the country. State legislation and coordinated law enforcement efforts make a difference. Legislation has recently been introduced in Arizona, the site of next year’s Super Bowl, to strengthen law enforcement officers’ and prosecutors’ options when going after traffickers. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has said that Arizona would offer training to first-responders and would sponsor a public awareness campaign highlighting where victims and witnesses of trafficking can get help. Minnesota has been a leader in coordinating efforts between law enforcement, shelters, advocacy groups and hotels. This work has led to a number of successful prosecutions, including one recent case in which a longtime leader of a trafficking ring was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

But these rings don’t operate solely within state or even national borders, which is why comprehensive federal legislation is necessary. The bipartisan Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act creates incentives for states to adopt the successful “safe harbor” laws like those passed in Minnesota and a dozen other states already. Right now, minors who are sold for sex can be prosecuted as criminals in many states. This is simply outrageous. These kids are not criminals — they are victims of exploitation. Safe harbor laws make sure they are treated as victims who need help, which in turn leads to better prosecutions of the johns and perpetrators who run the trafficking rings.

Many local, national and global organizations, including the McCain Institute’s Humanitarian Action program, are working to tackle this issue head-on. Getting law enforcement officers, prosecutors, officials and advocates to coordinate their strategy makes a big difference. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act would create a national strategy to combat human trafficking to encourage cooperation among all the different agencies — federal, state and local — that work on this problem. Working with other countries to combat trafficking is critical and should continue to be a State Department priority.

It’s hard to believe that this crime happens in our states, cities and neighborhoods. But even as we write, girls across the country are being subjected to unspeakable acts of violence. We cannot sit back and let this happen — and we will do everything in our power to stop it. With hard work and cooperation, we can make a real difference — not just at the Super Bowl but in every community across the country.

 
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