The average sex-trafficking victim is a 13-year-old girl, often forced into the illicit business against her will and fed illegal drugs to keep her tethered to her pimp. These children need housing, education, jobs and hope for a future — not a criminal rap sheet, says U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
On Friday, President Obama signed a law championed by Klobuchar that will help law enforcement further crack down on traffickers. It creates financial incentives for states to pass laws that ensure minors sold for sex aren't prosecuted, but are instead treated as victims,
Klobuchar said Saturday that the federal provision is modeled after Minnesota's "Safe Harbor" law. About 15 states have similar laws, Klobuchar said. The Minnesota Democrat co-sponsored the bill with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
"Some people used to refer to prostitution as a victimless crime. These girls are incredibly young and there has been an increase in these kinds of crimes with social media," Klobuchar said. "Just as our country's attitudes have changed on child abuse and domestic violence … our attitudes now on prostitution and on sex-trafficking of young people are completely turning around."
The law give states incentives through existing federal grant programs to pass safe harbor laws, which steer victims into child protection instead of the criminal justice system.
The Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act also calls for the creation of a national strategy to combat human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice will largely oversee that piece, which will include goal-setting, information sharing between state and federal law enforcement and gathering of best practices to combat trafficking, Klobuchar said.
One of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch's top priorities is prosecuting human trafficking, she said. .
The new law calls for using fines and penalties against sex traffickers to improve the availability of victim services. Existing federal funds allocated for health care will also be tapped.
The law also helps victims pursue financial restitution against their traffickers, strengthens the National Human Trafficking Hotline and allows sex-trafficking victims to participate in the Job Corps, a no-cost education and vocational training program run by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Klobuchar said her previous work as a Hennepin County prosecutor gave her a sense of "how horrific these sex-trafficking rings are."
Addressing her colleagues in the U.S. Senate, Klobuchar described a recent case. A 12-year-old Rochester girl received a text message about a party. She showed up and was abducted, raped and taken to the Twin Cities where her captors sold her for sex on Craigslist.
"It's not just something that is happening in faraway lands," Klobuchar told senators. "It is happening in our back yard. It is happening to 12-year-olds in my own state."