Lawmakers in the U.S. Work to End Underground Sex Trafficking


Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 1:06 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

"For Sale" Photo by: Spring Tripp-Reilly

WASHINGTON, D.C.  -  The FBI estimates that 293,000 American youth are at risk of being trafficked in the underground sex trade. Lawmakers in the House are proposing a bill package aimed at shutting down the nation’s multimillion dollar sex trafficking industry, up for vote on Tuesday.

The measures include exploitation close to home as well as resolutions condemning the kidnapping in Nigeria of 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, an armed terrorist group that has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri sponsored a bill that would make it a federal crime for advertisers to display child and adult trafficking victims on their websites.  Another bill urges states to enact laws that treat minors who have been sold for sex as victims rather than criminals when they are arrested.

The legislation includes a formal condemnation of the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping on 14 April, a requirement for states to identify and address sex trafficking of children in foster care, and a request of the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” for sex offenders convicted of child abuse.

Additionally it would impose additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and increase restitution to victims.  It offers employment assistance through Jobs Corps to the victims, and provides more resources to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It would require convicted sex traffickers to report to authorities every three months and appear on the National Sex Offender Registry for life.

Cindy McCain, co-chair of Arizona governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, and wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said, "This is beginning to reach critical mass in the U.S. and people are paying attention to it.” McCain, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, met with Mexican government officials to discuss ways to end sex trafficking across the border.

“We can’t lead worldwide unless we clean up our own house first,” McCain told CNN. Human trafficking is the third-largest international crime behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Of the estimated $32 billion profits from human trafficking, it is estimated that $15.5 billion comes from industrialized nations.

In Portland, a pimp and his coworker approached Katie Rhoades, a 19-year-old homeless, drug-addicted stripper. Offering a better life as their recording studio production assistant, they lured in the teen. 72 hours after Rhoades moved from Portland to San Francisco she was held captive by the pair and forced to have sex for money. She was held hostage with other women in a building surrounded by a 6-foot fence topped with barbed wire and cameras, and guarded by pit bulls and an alarm system. When she finally escaped, she enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program, got clean, and earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.

Rhoades now runs a victim advocacy group and helps to train hotel staff on recognizing sex trafficking. "We need stronger laws penalizing folks who facilitate the sex trade," Rhoades said. "If a hotel manager consciously turns a blind eye to allow this to occur in his hotel then he needs to be penalized."

There needs to be more resources for victims once they’re rescued, according to Dedee Lhamon. She is the executive director of The Covering House, a St. Louis shelter for children rescued from the sex trade. Children in her shelter are usually from suburbs or small towns, where they are conned into the sex trade under the guise of things such as a study-abroad program or “girls who are going to school or church and being rented out by a parent or someone who needs to get their drug supply.”

29 people in Minneapolis have been indicted in a significant sex trafficking case where the victims (some under the age of 14) were repeatedly victimized over several years and transported several places.

"As a parent, I can sympathize and only imagine how horrible it is as a parent to have a child that has been subjected to this horrific crime," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

This coming Wednesday, National Missing Children’s Day, the Department of Justice will honor seven people who helped to rescue missing or abused children. Holly Smith, author of “Walking Prey,” a book written about her experiences when she was sex trafficked at 14, will speak at the event.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

Washington's Split Personality | House Approves $310 Billion in Corporate Tax Breaks, Rejects Sensible Foster Care Initiative


Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 01:20 p.m. DST, 1 May 2014

"help" Photo by bambe1964WASHINGTON, DC - Legislators in Washington continue to buttress the wealth gap that separates a few at the top from mainstream America.

On Tuesday, 29 April 2014, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives voted to give billions in tax write-offs to the ultra-wealthy, and their familial corporations that masquerade as human beings.

The committee will bring the bill before the House in the coming weeks to see it to completion. Once written into law, the new tax credits will spare the nation's most lucrative businesses $310 billion over the next ten years. The measure will help companies who notoriously camouflage assets in offshore holdings.

Among these beneficiaries is Merck & Co., who famously defrauded Medicaid for millions of dollars in the years leading up to a 2000 federal investigation. The pharmaceutical giant had drawn blood from state and local medical aid programs under the guise of ignorance. Investigators and representatives reached a $650 million settlement to reimburse taxpayers in 2008.

Apple will also benefit by the decision. This top American earner has a long track record of depositing billions in revenue into international accounts, where assets are free from taxation.

But that is only half of the story. In the same meeting on Tuesday, the committee stripped the "Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act" of a $12 million dollar provision, to be paid out in the course of the next decade. The money would have addressed a host of issues in the foster care system.

Not least of these concerns is the number of children diverted from the foster care network into sex trafficking. Facilities administering to foster youth are popular targets for the prostitution industry, and the proposal explains why. Without a birth certificate, Social Security card, health insurance, medical records and financial records, young people are funneled into underground, illegal industries.

The "Youth in Foster Care Act" sought to change this. Through proposed transitional strategies and permanent living alternatives, Democrats such as Rep. Lloyd Doggett wanted to put a small amount of federal funding behind the initiative. Republicans rejected the idea, on account of spending concerns.

The contradictory decisions are insincere at best, and better described as 'piggish.' The most vulnerable and impoverished in society are left hanging when politicians can justify tax cuts for the wealthiest, but fall flat on a provision 1/30,000 the size of the corporate credits. Powerful members of American society continue to marginalize foster youth and like demographics, thrusting them to the peripheries of the pursuit of happiness.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

The 'Opt Out' Mom

Most parents know the admixture of fear and excitement that precedes the arrival of a new family member. Whether biological, surrogate or adoptive, a thousand questions haunt us: Will we be good parents? Can we avoid the mistakes we feel that our parents made? Will the child be healthy? Will we have the capacity to love and nurture the child often at the expense of our needs and desires? Do we have the strength and stamina to see this through to the end which may mark our waning tenure on planet earth? Of course this is not an exhaustive list, and people by virtue of their individual life experiences, personality, emotional landscape and thought processes may categorize these feelings differently, yet the basic essence remains the same. We are human, and as such recognize our fallibility. But for those who desire to procreate and to experience the challenge and accomplishment of unconditional love we push through these doubts to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

One does not have to give birth a child to become a mother or provide the sperm that fertilizers an egg to become a father. Certainly, this is one means by which people can become parents, but just as many people choose surrogacy and adoption. Out of the millions of people who choose the latter, there exist an incalculable number of great parents who open their hearts so completely that the love and care they exhibit toward their children is indistinguishable from that of biological parents.

Unfortunately, far too many children fall prey to parents who are emotionally and spiritually stunted. These individuals join the rank and file of a cadre for whom the desire for children is commoditized to meet the procurer's need for psychological or physical dominance, conformance with societal norms, free labor, or sex. I am intimately acquainted with the trauma a bad parent can inflict upon a child. During my childhood, my father's hatred toward me manifested in both emotional and physical abuse which took years for me to process. Through intensive psychotherapy I continue to process and reconcile a world which had been turned inside out by the shortcomings of my seemingly omnipotent parental figure.

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