Rep. Mike Coffman
It is not a well-known fact that the fastest-growing segment of organized crime, as well as the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world, is sex trafficking. And while many believe this is only an international problem that pervades third-world countries, the unfortunate reality is that sex trafficking also occurs here in the United States.
The United Nations estimates that there is $9 billion in revenue generated from sex trafficking in the U.S. alone. Moreover, according to the Department of Justice the average age of the women who are trafficked is between 13 and14 years old. In Colorado, over 30% of the human trafficking victims are minors, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
This is striking given that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) cites an estimated 293,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of these victims are runaways who live on the streets and who generally come from homes where they have been abused or from families who have abandoned them. Sadly, these women and young girls are too often sold to traffickers, where they are drugged and abused into submission.
In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which created the first comprehensive Federal law to address trafficking. The law allows for prosecution and severe punishment through newly formed Federal crimes. According to the FBI, this operation has succeeded in saving nearly 900 children from sex trafficking by successfully convicting more than 500 pimps, madams, and their associates. However, given the size and scope of this horrible industry of human exploitation, more needs to be done.
Fortunately, many local and state law enforcement agencies have joined Federal efforts to combat sex trafficking. In Colorado, the Colorado State Patrol created the Smuggling and Trafficking Interdiction Unit (STIU) to address these issues of human smuggling and human trafficking. Since 2006, this unit has launched efforts to eradicate our state of this type of organized crime. Recently, the STUI, along with other state and Federal agencies, stopped organized human trafficking operations out of various massage parlors and spas in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Our local operations along with national efforts have had some success but there are other ways for us to combat the growth of sex trafficking in the U.S. — we need to target its economic allies as well.
Shockingly, there is big-business in the online advertisements that facilitate this sex-slavery. Online classified services are making millions of dollars of revenue generated from the advertisement of children for sex. Recent reports indicate that online prostitution advertising revenue generated $45 million in 2013 alone. Obviously, this is an issue that needs more attention from national policymakers.
For this reason, I am proud to cosponsor H.R. 4225, the SAVE Act, which was recently introduced by Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO). The bill seeks to prohibit entities from knowingly selling advertising that leads to sex trafficking activities. Although larger measures are needed to prevent issues such as domestic violence that isolate young women from society, the SAVE Act will make this sex trafficking less profitable by cutting off methods of advertising. Moreover, the SAVE Act criminalizes this behavior and provides the tools to allow all levels of law enforcement to combat this pernicious exploitation of American women and children in the U.S.
As a Member of Congress, I will do what I can, but these repugnant sex traffickers operate outside both our legal and moral frameworks. Therefore, we need a total effort from our community, both local and national, to stop this heinous activity.
If you would like to help the effort, I urge you contact the Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking (CoNEHT) at 1-866-455-5075 or the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking at 303-295-0451.
Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.