Smith holds hearing on child sex traffickingRescuing Sex Trafficking Victims, Int'l Megan's Law Topics of House Hearing
Daring Rescues of Children & Young Adult Victims Conducted by Private Organization, Survivor of Child Sex Trafficking Focus of Hearing
Members of an anti-human trafficking organization testified about their recent rescues of child sex slaves in Columbia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Thailand and other countries at a House human rights hearing held today by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees global human rights issues. They were joined by anti-human trafficking advocates from Mexico, including a young survivor of child sex trafficking.
Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) was a focus of the hearing chaired by Smith, author of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law which created the Office on Trafficking of Persons and mandates the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP). He has also authored the International Megan’s Law Bill (HR 515), legislation to fight child sex trafficking by notifying destination countries when convicted pedophiles plan to travel.
“We know that organized crime, street gangs, and pimps around the world have expanded into sex trafficking at an alarming rate,” Smith said. “It is an extremely lucrative undertaking: a trafficker can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year off just one victim. Unlike drugs or weapons, a human being can be held captive and sold into sexual slavery over and over again.
“International Megan’s Law seeks to protect children from sex tourism by notifying destination countries when convicted pedophiles plan to travel,” Smith said. “And to protect American children, the bill encourages the President to use bilateral agreements and assistance to establish reciprocal notification—so that we will know when convicted child-sex offenders are coming here.” Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks.
The hearing, entitled “A Pathway to Freedom: Rescue and Refuge for Sex Trafficking Victims,” heard from Utah Attorney General, Sean Reyes, as the lead-off witness. He played a central role in the dangerous sting operation in October 2014 in Columbia. The AG was reported to have posed as part of a group of Columbian cartel investors setting up an island child sex hotel off the coast of Cartagena. His testimony was followed by Tim Ballard, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security agent who founded and runs OUR. Click here to read witnesses testimony.
Reyes endorsed Smith’s proposed International Megan’s Law, a bill named after a girl killed in Smith’s district by a convicted child sex offender, and urged the Senate to pass it, noting the House has already passed it three times.
“International Megan’s Law makes sense,” Reyes said. “Codifying a requirement to alert law enforcement authorities in destination countries will allow our law enforcement partners worldwide to be more vigilant when known American child sex offenders are entering their countries, sometimes for legitimate travel, but too often for repeat offenses of child crimes, sex parties and tours. It will also provide law enforcement at the federal/state/local level in the United States a much better chance to prevent domestic crimes when convicted child sexual abusers from other countries enter U.S. territory.
“I urge the Senate and anyone listening to this hearing to support passage of this law and others aimed at curbing and eventually ending child sex trafficking.” Click here to read Reyes statement.
Ballard said as an DHS agent, he once worked on a case of child sex slaves in Colombia, but was unable to act.
“I did my due diligence and knew where the children were, but was told that I could not engage because it wasn’t going to end in a U.S. Courtroom,” Ballard said. “Time after time- constantly being told, ‘No,’ the frustration slowly grew. I wanted to attack this problem from a different angle, so I left the U.S. government and created Operation Underground Railroad last year.”
Ballard said advancing International Megan’s Law is an opportunity to connect law enforcement agencies around the world by arming them with actionable intelligence they can use to prevent child sex crimes from occurring.
“In this country we proudly work under Megan’s Law, as a means to encourage states to protect children by identifying and monitoring the whereabouts of child sex offenders,” Ballard said. “As a society we have accepted the fact that convicted child sex offenders pose a greater risk to children than others in society. And so we make their presence known. Why would we not offer this same mechanism to our friends overseas?” Click here to read Ballard’s testimony.
Also testifying were Karla Jacinto Romero, 22, a survivor of human trafficking now an advocate with the Commission United vs. Trafficking, and by Rosi Orozco, President of the Commission United vs. Trafficking and a former member of the Mexican House of Representatives.
“Today I am thankful to be able to stand before you a reintegrated woman,” said Romero. “I am 22, and for the last 5 years, my life has been dedicated to raising my voice to anyone willing to hear that we exist, that there are thousands of little girls and boys in my country being used for the pleasure of those who only live for their own desires, economic gain and exertion of power. It is up to us, both governments and non government organizations to work together to prevent this crime, punish those who commit them, to look and rescue for those who are already caught in the web, and to provide the care necessary for their healing and reintegration to a healthy society.” Click here to read Romero’s statement.
Former Mexican congresswoman Orozco worked to establish a 2012 law to prevent human trafficking and to assist victims.
“In truth, my passion is to work directly with the beautiful girls that have suffered and been rescued from this horrific crime,” Orozco said. “I have personally worked with more than 200 victims, shared their stories, and witnessed their struggles as they look to rebuild their lives and heal from the worst pain that can be inflicted on a human being: the loss of their freedom and dignity. More than anything, they need all of us to be willing to fight for them, and they deserve to be heard.” Click here to read her testimony.