On a voice vote, the U.S. House passed Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s bill that aims to ensure sex trafficking victims are not treated as criminals.
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex are treated as victims rather than defendants.
“The majority of these victims are not old enough to have graduated from high school, they’re not old enough to have voted in an election, they’re not old enough to have passed their drivers test because we’re talking about 12- and 13- and 14-year-old girls,” Paulsen said in a speech on the House floor.
Part of a comprehensive package of sex trafficking bills the House approved, the legislation would also make victims eligible for the Job Corps program, to help them find employment and minimize “the likelihood that they will be forced to return to sex slavery,” said Paulsen, who introduced the House bill with Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has authored companion legislation awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I’m looking forward to working with the House to produce a strong final bill that will give victims the support they need and help law enforcement fight these heinous crimes,” Klobuchar said.
The bill is among dozens of bipartisan and bicameral anti-trafficking bills that have been introduced in the past year. Klobuchar and Paulsen have focused on the exploitation of young girls who are lured into prostitution and later arrested and dumped into the criminal justice system.
“These girls are victims and they should be treated as victims … They don’t feel they can trust law enforcement because most states say they should be incarcerated instead of being treated as a victim,” Paulsen said during his floor speech.