CAPITOL HILL— Many Americans think of human trafficking as a problem that exists far away from U.S. shores, such as the case of the almost 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram and are still missing.
But the U.S. government says as many as 17,500 people, mostly girls, are trafficked into the United States annually, and that does not include those who are kidnapped and forced into sex slavery within U.S. borders.
The U.S. House of Representatives has taken action to help the victims and to crack down on perpetrators.
A survivor of human trafficking, Shandra Woworuntu, was on Capitol Hill Tuesday to advocate for restitution and other government services to help victims. Woworuntu is originally from Indonesia. She is college-educated and worked as a financial analyst in her country until she lost her job due to political instability.
Woworuntu came to the United States in 2001 under the false impression that she had been offered a job in the hospitality industry, but she was kidnapped at the airport in New York and forced into sex slavery, as she told VOA:
“During my arrival someone picked me up, and took me into the van. They took my passport, they took my hidden ticket, and the same day I was trafficked into underground sex business,” said she.
Woworuntu escaped and her trafficker is now in prison. She received help from a non-profit organization and now advocates to raise awareness about human trafficking.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces on five bills to help state and local governments develop victim-centered programs and to train law enforcement officers to rescue victims and not to treat them as prostitutes. House Majority leader Eric Cantor called for bipartisan efforts to address the problem.
“And we must confront this issue head on, not just as Republicans, not just as Democrats, but as dads, as moms, as sisters and brothers. We must protect our children,” said Cantor.
Representative Carolyn Maloney has worked to combat human trafficking internationally for more than a decade.
“There is no crime on earth more appalling, no offense as terrible, no act of depravity as harmful to the community of a nation and certainly to the individuals affected,” said Maloney.
The five bills, which must be approved by the Senate, also seek to reduce the demand for human trafficking by encouraging police and judges to treat those who solicit sexual activities from minors as human traffickers, rather than petty criminals. The average age for girls forced into sex slavery is 13, and the average age for boys is 12.