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Hatch: Children exploited for sex are victims, not criminals

Published November 19, 2013 2:40 pm

Resolution • His measure calls for a system to protect and aid children who were trafficked for sex.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Children sold for sex shouldn't be treated as criminals.

That's the point of a congressional resolution Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is pushing as part of a concerted effort to reform welfare systems in America that some say malign victims of sexual exploitation instead of offering help.

Hatch joined with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and several House members to introduce the resolution titled, "Our Daughters Are Not For Sale." The measure calls for child-welfare systems to protect and aid kids who fell out of the safety net and were trafficked for sex.

"There's an epidemic of abuse taking place in America today," Hatch said, noting that too often the kids caught up in such exploitation are called "throwaways."

"No child should ever be considered a throwaway kid," Hatch said.

Some 293,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking and a majority of them are runaways or kids who left foster care, says the FBI, adding that average age a girl becomes involved in sexual exploitation is 12 to 14.

While sex trafficking is often thought of as an international problem — and most of it is — child advocates say it's a major domestic problem as well. Beyond the resolution, which has no force of law, Hatch is sponsoring legislation that would require states to show that they have policies in place to identify youths who are believed to be at risk of being exploited.

Wyden said that because those who traffic youths for sex are often wealthy, he also introduced a measure on Tuesday that would impose huge fines on those caught in the child sex trade. The money would be used to help prop up support systems for victims of trafficking.

"It's probably too logical for Washington, D.C.," Wyden said of his bill.

Durbin says that the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration have hurt efforts to protect children from such exploitation and he called for restoring that funding.

He also said an effort was needed to convince states that children caught in sexual crimes shouldn't be tossed into jail.

"We shouldn't treat these trafficking victims like criminals," the senator said.

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing earlier this year on the sex trade where Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that there were gaps in the current welfare program's protection of young children.

"Human trafficking, which includes both labor and sex trafficking, is not unique to third-world countries," Baucus said. "It exists right here in America."

tburr@sltrib.com