By U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va, 3rd District
Sadly, it seems like every day we hear of a new report of children or young adults being abused by trusted coaches or trafficked online. Every child deserves to grow up in a caring, nurturing environment that protects them from those who wish to do them harm, and I am working hard with my colleagues in Congress to do just that.
Human trafficking is happening here in West Virginia. A recent report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting looked at how the drug epidemic in West Virginia is leading to an increase in human trafficking, particularly of children and vulnerable young adults. Two adults were even convicted recently in Charleston for trafficking a minor.
More and more, the internet is being used to help traffickers conduct their heinous crimes. There has been a disturbing increase of ads online that are selling trafficking victims, many of them through classified ad websites like Backpage.com.
I was proud to be a cosponsor of the recently passed Allowing States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which will hold websites like Backpage.com accountable for giving these horrific criminals an online platform to prey on our children. This legislation gives our law enforcement officials the tools they need to combat modern-day slave markets online and to protect children and vulnerable adults from those who seek to do them harm.
These sites are used for human trafficking even here in West Virginia; a Shepherdstown man was recently convicted after a trafficking incident on Backpage.com. Nationally, the FBI arrested 120 traffickers and rescued 84 children from a multi-state human trafficking ring in October during an operation dubbed Operation Cross Country XI.
Experts say children being trafficked or abused often don’t even realize they are experiencing abuse, due to grooming tactics used by predators to gain victims’ trust. That is where trusted adults must look out for children, ensuring that any kind of abuse inflicted against a child is reported to authorities. Our local police departments are responding to step up education and outreach to help identify and rescue these victims, and their efforts are to be commended.
We must also give our youth organizations the ability to conduct meaningful background checks with access to information to prevent predators from having access to our children. That is why I supported passage of the Child Protection Improvements Act, which gives youth organizations access to database systems run by the FBI to conduct national background checks on any potential employee hires. Many organizations currently only have access to state-level data when conducting background checks, limiting their ability to conduct searches on staff on a national level.
I am also working through my role on the House Appropriations Committee to provide funding for programs that help protect our communities from trafficking predators. Programs like the Regional Information Sharing Systems program help local, state and federal law enforcement agencies share information. Strengthening the ability for law enforcement agencies to coordinate with one another to help capture these criminals is essential, since many trafficking networks conduct their crimes nationwide, going across multiple state lines.
While we have taken great steps to protect innocent young lives from predators and human trafficking, I will keep working to with my colleagues in Washington to support legislation to strengthen penalties against sex predators and to give our brave men and women in law enforcement the tools they need to keep our communities safe. Our children are our future, and I remain committed to ensuring that they will be able to grow up in a safer America.