The Grinch That Stole Shelter From Child Trafficking Victims

Through coercion, abuse and imprisonment, as many as 300,000 children across America-particularly girls-are at risk of being trafficked for sex every year. The average age of a girl who is sex trafficked is 13 years old. This number is beyond disturbing and equally shocking is that there are less than 100 beds in the entire country to shelter child trafficking victims rescued by law enforcement.

The plight of child victims of sex trafficking in the United States is a national tragedy that has gone largely ignored for far too long. A ray of hope was that against the odds and against the clock-thanks to a growing movement of advocates shedding light on this dark crime happening in our own backyards-the 111th Congress was finally poised to act to better support and protect our nation's most vulnerable children.

On December 9th, the Senate unanimously passed the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010. This bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Cornyn (R-TX) sought to provide much needed federal funding to increase young trafficking victim's access to direct support services like shelter and mental health care and increase resources to help diminish demand.

The bill, the first of its kind to deal with young trafficking victims domestically, would have allocated $12 million for the Department of Justice to give competitive grants to six state and local units of government with a multidisciplinary approach toward addressing and combating the sex trafficking of children across the U.S.

After passage in the Senate, the bill moved over to the House where an almost identical bill was introduced by Representatives Maloney (D-NY) and Smith (R-NJ). After thousands of calls to members of the House, the House of Representatives passed the Senate version with minor amendments on December 21st.

On the last day of the session, the bill returned to the Senate. The democratic leadership was intent on "hotlining" the bill to bring it to a vote before members went home for the holidays but one lone Senator blocked passage.

That Senator is Senator Jeffrey Sessions of Alabama.

Because of Senator Sessions' political stance, a major opportunity for advancing human rights for child trafficking victims was lost. For yet another year, those most vulnerable to the scourge of sex trafficking within the United States-adolescent girls-will suffer unimaginable physical and mental abuse because local law enforcement does not have adequate tools, safe shelter is not available, and restorative care is out a reach. What a travesty. As people of goodwill during this holiday season, we should be outraged. We must let Senator Sessions and all of our elected officials know that their actions and non-actions have real and dire consequences.

Without the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victim Support Act on the books, the thousands of girls trafficked for sex every day across America will continue being trapped in a cycle of abuse that no child should ever know.

Let's pledge now that in the new year, we will send a clear message to the 112th Congress to take a strong stance and insure that child sex trafficking victims are provided the support and protection they need to have a future, not a past.

There are up to 300,000 children who are depending on our tenacity.

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