WASHINGTON – Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, made the opening statement in a Tuesday hearing about what Congress could be doing to prevent sex trafficking, particularly of children in the foster-care system.
But perhaps the most compelling testimony came from survivor Asia Graves, explaining to the committee how she was easy prey as a homeless teen.
Graves, who now works with other survivors, said there’s a critical need for more training for teachers and social workers to help them identify victims – and Graves said there are many.
“It’s actually the second largest crime behind drugs,” she said. “It actually surpassed guns recently. A girl or a boy who is homeless or living in the streets – within two days of being on the streets, they’re going to interact with a pimp or be offered the opportunity to have sex for money.”
According to the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, at least 100,000 children are exploited every year in the United States. From 50 percent to 80 percent of them are connected to the foster-care system. Some estimates put 300,000 at risk of exploitation.
One concern mentioned by Hatch is that in some places, underage girls who are arrested for prostitution are charged and treated as criminals instead of getting the support services they need as victims of the sex trade. Graves said the foster-care system is full of vulnerable young people and isn’t well equipped to deal with this problem.
“Critical funding is needed to open specialized foster homes where girls who are sold into sex trafficking can actually go as a respite time period to get their lives together,” she said.
Last month, a tougher new Utah law on human trafficking went into effect, including changing the age at which a young person can be considered a victim from 14 to 18.
Hatch’s comments are online at <a href=”http://www.finance.senate.gov/newsroom/ranking/release/?id=467aff36-ea47-4773-9bae-77d452790240″ target=”parent”>finance.senate.gov</a>.