By Ed Royce

In The Orange County Register:


In her junior year of college, Southern California native Rachel Thomas found herself trapped in a sex-trafficking ring after being lured by a pimp claiming to be a talent agent. The pimp threatened to kill Rachel’s family if she attempted to escape.

Angela Guanzon was promised a good-paying job in the United States by a recruiter in the Philippines. Instead, she found herself forced to sleep on the floor of a retirement home in Long Beach, working 18 hour days for no pay.

Rachel and Angela shared their incredible stories of survival with me earlier this year. Their experiences are important reminders that human trafficking is a global problem, but not a faraway one.

Human trafficking is affecting communities across Southern California, including in Orange and Los Angeles counties. At a hearing in Washington I convened last year as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe described 10- to 12-year-old girls being pimped on the streets of Los Angeles – a shocking reality also confirmed by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas at our hearing last year in Fullerton.

In fact, the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force has served over 225 victims of trafficking in 2013 alone. The enhanced penalties of California’s new anti-trafficking law (enacted in 2013 as Proposition 35) were put to use for the first time last October, when a man who had attempted to lure a 13-year-old girl from Bakersfield into sexual slavery in Sacramento was sentenced to more than 32 years in prison. Increasing the penalties for traffickers is a step in the right direction, but more can and must be done to combat the efforts to lure minors into sexual or labor trafficking.

That’s why last year I started my Human Trafficking Congressional Advisory Committee, comprised of victims’ rights organizations, local and federal law enforcement agencies and community advocates. Our members include representatives from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, the Anaheim Police Department, Crittenton Services for Children & Families, the O.C. Salvation Army, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, to name a few. Once a month, the HTCAC meets in my Orange County district office to share concerns and policy recommendations in the fight against trafficking.

One pressing issue HTCAC has brought to my attention is the need for collaboration between local nonprofits and agencies in providing housing options for victims under age 18. The passage of Proposition 35 in 2012 determined that minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation would no longer be detained in juvenile hall – a practice that often revictimized them. However, private shelters are often not secure. Young victims need an environment where they can cope and recover from their traumatizing experiences. They need counseling, treatment and a well-staffed facility where they can work with law enforcement to prepare to testify against their trafficker.

Without this support, survivors are often too scared of retribution to speak out, and the perpetrator is never caught. With nowhere to turn, many young victims return to their pimps out of fear and violent threats to themselves or their families.

To more adequately prepare local agencies to address this very problem, I’ve co-sponsored the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act. This legislation helps ensure that child welfare agencies have the necessary tools to understand the unique needs of child trafficking victims and the resources to appropriately serve them. Improving the child welfare response to trafficking is an important step toward effectively caring for these young survivors and removing dangerous traffickers from our communities.

We must also work to combat overseas traffickers who bait foreign-born workers to move to the U.S. with promises of good jobs, then trap them into exploitation and slavery. Last year, I introduced the Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Enforcement (FORTE) Act. This legislation combats the growing problem of international human trafficking by requiring overseas labor recruiters to provide detailed employment information to workers – to help avoid the bait-and-switch into slave labor or sexual slavery once workers enter the U.S. – and creating additional penalties and enforcement mechanisms.

I have convened a number hearings focused on how the United States can increase efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly the fraudulent recruitment of overseas workers. Through bipartisan action, I am confident we will make substantive progress in this important fight.

With an estimated 60,000 people living in slave-like conditions in the U.S., now is the time to act and collaborate. We must do all we can to protect victims, prosecute traffickers and fight the spread of this grievous offense against human dignity.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


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