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July 23, 2014

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Education, resources and collaboration are key to preventing human trafficking

Recently we joined with representatives from local law enforcement and victim advocacy groups for a panel discussion on protecting the Las Vegas area from human trafficking. This heinous form of modern-day slavery is happening in our own community and is both a national and global epidemic.

Human trafficking involves the use of coercion to obtain both labor and commercial sex acts. Victims are often lured into this $32 billion-a-year industry by false promises of jobs and better lives, only to be held against their will and forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. It is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

We must focus on three main areas to achieve our dual goals of ending human trafficking and protecting and assisting the victims.

First, we must ensure that law enforcement officials, the judiciary and victim support programs have the resources to combat human trafficking as well as to assist victims. In fiscal year 2014, Congress appropriated approximately $28 million for direct services to trafficking victims. In addition, several federal agencies, including the Homeland Security and Justice departments, provide grants to assist victims with mental health counseling and legal services. At the state level, Nevada has provided funding through the Department of Human Services, the primary agency responsible for addressing human trafficking. This week, the U.S. House will consider the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. It reallocates existing grants for human trafficking deterrence and victim support and provides additional tools for law enforcement to prosecute all those involved in human trafficking. This combination of state and federal resources will promote a collaborative, comprehensive approach to human trafficking prevention and victim support that will help make our communities safer.

Next, we must crack down on human trafficking advertising, especially advertising done on the Internet, to cut off access to the supply of individuals trafficked for commercial sex acts and domestic labor. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 76 percent of transactions for sex with underage girls are conducted via the Internet. Websites and other print classifieds offer traffickers the ability to hide in plain sight from law enforcement by posting ads that may seem innocuous but frequently lead to the exploitation of children. In response, attorneys general from 47 states asked Congress to update laws so that those responsible for using Internet advertising to engage in human trafficking can be held accountable. In Carson City, we have made it a priority to deter trafficking on these sites, and next week the House will vote on the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, which makes it a federal crime to knowingly host websites that advertise for the commercial sex exploitation of minors and trafficking victims.

The House will also consider three other pieces of legislation to address the ongoing problem of victims being treated as criminals, preventing trafficking and improving opportunities for youth in foster care, and encouraging reciprocal notification if a known sex offender is traveling to or from the United States.

Finally, we must educate our community about the very real dangers of human trafficking, especially child sex trafficking. Given the transient nature of our population and status as a major national and international travel destination, Las Vegas is constantly targeted by individuals who engage in human trafficking. Part of the reason we joined together for the panel discussion was to raise awareness of this issue. From teachers and school counselors to health care professionals and faith-based groups, everyone must do their part to ensure our community is informed of ways to detect the warning signs of human trafficking, whom to contact if you suspect human trafficking is occurring and how to assist victims. The compelling stories we heard from both victims and advocates during the panel discussion highlighted how very real and close to home this problem is.

The key is collaboration between federal and state elected officials and close consultation with law enforcement and victim advocacy groups. We encourage everyone to arm themselves with information about how to keep their friends and family safe from human trafficking and to aid those who have been its victims.

Congressman Joe Heck represents Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in the House of Representatives. Assemblyman John Hambrick represents District 2 in the Nevada Assembly.

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