WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- Update 7:00 p.m.
The House passed five bills tackling child sex trafficking Tuesday afternoon aimed at protecting children and increasing penalties for those who participate in the multi-billion dollar crime industry.
Three of the measures passed by voice vote and one that would direct funding to victims of sex trafficking passed unanimously, 409-0.
The fifth bill, which would amend the criminal code to penalize the selling of advertising the sexual services of trafficked children, was opposed by 18 Democrats and one Republican over First Amendment concerns.
"While this problem may seem thousands of miles away, this horror is inflicted on millions of families every year, including here in the United States," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on the floor ahead of the votes.
"An America that leads, understands that we must do everything in our power to protect the vulnerable populations these groups prey upon."
A resolution condemning the abduction of nearly 300 school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram militants also passed by voice vote.
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Members of the House of Representatives urged Tuesday quick passage of a package of bills aimed at halting sex trafficking inside the U.S. and abroad.
The five bills, that will go up for votes Tuesday evening, have been in the works for some time, but come amid a wave of concern that brought sexual slavery to the forefront of public attention after nearly 300 school girls were kidnapped in Nigeria last month.
"Today, the House will act on important, bipartisan legislation that holds everyone involved in these crimes accountable, whether they sell, buy, or market these crimes to potential buyers," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "These bill ensure that exploited children are treated as victims rather than as criminals and provide much needed resources to victims of sex trafficking that will help them rebuild and reclaim their lives."
Sex trafficking is the fastest growing business in organized crime, according to the FBI, and the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, at $9.5 billion a year, according to the United Nations. The Justice Department estimates some 300,000 American children are at risk of being trafficked each year.
"These five bills, hopefully someday law, take us to a whole new level of combating trafficking," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the author of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, by "putting those people who perpetuate these terrible crimes against women and children behind bars, providing space of refuge, oasis, for those women and young children who have been abused, and also making sure... that we prevent this hideous crime from happening using all the tools that are available by expanding the toolbox."
Tuesday's push is part of a broader effort from Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to emphasize "softer" issues to position the GOP as a party that cares about more than taxes and spending in an election year. Republicans hope to correct a steep disadvantage among young people, particularly women, that it faced in recent elections.
It is also unusual in that the bills will be brought to the floor in a standalone vote, while historically trafficking-related legislation has been saved for inclusion on the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The bills are: - The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, which will add a "penalty for knowingly selling advertising that offers certain commercial sex acts;" - the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which would fund services to victims of sex trafficking and improve law enforcement capabilities; - the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, to expand safe harbor laws for victims; - the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, to prevent the foster care system from allowing children to fall into sex trafficking; and - the International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking, to expand current Megan's Law statutes to inform countries where American sex offenders are traveling and encourages reciprocal notification.