Law needs update to protect kids

The FBI’s rescue Monday of 105 sexually exploited children – 18 of them from the South Sound – underscores the urgent need for a change to one federal law and the implementation of another. And, for once, the annoying trend of hyperpartisanship should play no role in delaying congressional action.

It’s perhaps coincidence that this week state Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined 36 other attorneys general in pressuring Congress to update the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to allow state and local prosecution of human traffickers.

Federal lawmakers wrote the CDA during the Internet’s infancy. They intended the law to prevent juveniles from being exposed to pornography. In a tragic turn of events, however, the law has been used by pimps to prostitute young women with the help of soulless websites such as Backpage.com.

Ferguson and his colleagues want a simple two-word amendment to the CDA. Simply adding “or state” to the law would permit individual states to prosecute those wretches trafficking underage people on the Internet.

Congress should pass this amendment swiftly after returning from its summer recess.

As Ferguson told reporters, “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery,” and local authorities need modern-day tools to stop those using “technology to promote the sexual exploitation of children.”

But Congress can do more.

Two lawmakers – Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Rob Portman, R-Ohio – are proposing a bipartisan bill that would require law enforcement and child services to classify sexually exploited children as victims of abuse. It’s common sense. How else can you describe a 12-year-old girl lured into prostitution other than being abused by her pimp?

If child welfare and foster care programs work with law enforcement to identify these young and mostly female victims, they become eligible for protection and services they wouldn’t otherwise receive.

Even more needs to be done to help the hundreds of thousands of American children bound into sexual slavery every year. The U.S. Justice Department estimates 450,000 children run away from homes annually and a third of them get lured into prostitution within 48 hours.

These two measures – a change to the CDA and identifying trafficked youths as victims of abuse — take short but significant steps toward reducing one of America’s most repellent crimes.