Last week U.S. House members set aside their partisan differences long enough to pass five bills aimed at curbing sex trafficking in this country and abroad.
It was a notable accomplishment made possible in large part by the efforts of Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. Reichert is no stranger to the issue. Prior to joining Congress in 2005, he spent much of his 33-year career in the King County Sheriff’s Office tracking down the Green River serial killer — Gary Ridgway.
The former sheriff knew firsthand the backgrounds of many of Ridgway’s 49 confirmed victims, young women and girls with shattered lives who were runaways and prostitutes and victims of abuse and exploitation.
It’s taken time, but Reichert and a few other House members have done a good job of educating political colleagues on both sides of the aisle about the horrific crime of sex trafficking and the need for legislation to curtail it.
The FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 boys and girls in the United States — teens and pre-teens alike — are at risk of being exploited for prostitution. Many are runaways from dysfunctional homes where they’ve already been exposed to physical and sexual abuse.
Reichert’s abiding interest in tackling the problem is both professional and personal. He ran away from home at the age of 17 to escape an abusive father, so he knows how vulnerable young people can be. Now he’s in a position to wield the power of Congress to fight back against sex trafficking and its associated ills.
He is the prime sponsor of one of the five bills passed by the House last week. His bill requires state foster care agencies to screen, identify and track children in their care who may fall prey to sexual exploitation. Under the bill, foster care is not to be considered a long-term goal for children under 16. Instead, the states would be required to find permanent homes for them, either through uniting them with their parents, or, if that’s not an acceptable option, finding adoptive families, relatives or legal guardians to provide a home.
In addition, his bill requires child welfare workers to report missing kids to law enforcement agencies within 24 hours, if the child is thought to be a victim of sex trafficking.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Erik Paulson, R-Minn., encourages states to stop prosecuting minors for prostitution and start treating them like victims. Washington state is one of 17 states where this approach is the law.
Two of the other bills seek to curb online sex advertising of trafficking victims.
Let this bipartisan effort to tackle sex trafficking serve as a reminder that Democrats and Republicans in the House can work together to solve real problems.