For many Americans, the phrase “human trafficking” conjures images of crimes committed in the back alleys of cities on the other side of the world.
The truth is even more sobering — human trafficking isn’t an isolated tragedy in some faraway nation. This is a reprehensible form of modern-day slavery that occurs in every state, and it’s happening every day.
In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received nearly 27,000 calls, and 7,500 human trafficking cases were reported. Illinois ranked 9th in reported cases, and those numbers continue to rise — cases increased 36 percent in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016.
These are mostly women and children — particularly foster youth — who are seen as vulnerable by traffickers. They are sold on the black market, forced into prostitution and made to work in miserable conditions for little or no pay. Many traffickers get their victims addicted to drugs in order to manipulate them more easily.
As a father and grandfather, it makes me sick to my stomach to hear that some of the most defenseless members of our society are being exploited this way. Every child should have a chance to be a kid, and everyone should feel safe in their own neighborhoods. The rise of human trafficking is creating broken families and broken communities, and it has no place in our or any other society.
Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates over 20 million individuals are trafficked. This multibillion-dollar illicit industry funds international criminal networks and even terrorist groups, like ISIS and Boko Haram, which threaten U.S. national security and international stability. Terrorists tend to smuggle drugs, arms, and people.
Human trafficking is an evil that must be stopped. This is why I voted for a trio of bipartisan bills passed by House this week to crack down on human trafficking and implement a stronger detection system in the U.S.
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act reauthorizes $130 million to fund the prevention of human trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers. As Douglass’ great-great-great grandson said, this is about “human slavery”—and it should be a priority for both sides of the aisle.
The Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act ensures the Department of Labor can effectively train its employees to identify and respond to the illegal trade of people, and the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act expands eligibility for Department of Justice grants to allow local law enforcement agencies to qualify for federal funding for the development and execution of programs that fight sex trafficking.
To stop human trafficking, we also need to raise awareness of the issue. A March 2017 poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale found that the overwhelming majority of Illinoisans don’t know that this is happening in their own backyard. The more we work to identify this as a problem, the better we can protect our children and neighbors from falling victim to it.
We hear a lot these days about how politically divided our nation is. However, this is an issue that everyone across the political spectrum should be able to agree on. To date, the House has passed 13 bills that will help victims, punish traffickers, prevent trafficking ,and aid law enforcement, but our work is far from over. It will take time to completely eradicate the crime of human trafficking — which is pervasive and often hidden in plain sight — but the legislation that passed the House this week is vitally important to help protect Americans and their families.
Rep. Mike Bost has represented the 12 counties of Illinois’ 12th District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2015. Prior to his election to Congress, Representative Bost served for two decades in the Illinois House of Representatives, rising to the leadership position of House Republican Caucus Chair.