"I thought it only happened in poor countries," Sister Gladys Leigh told reporters. But, like too many people, the St. Louis nun underestimated the strong grip of sex trafficking. Now a volunteer at St. Louis's shelter for recovering sex slaves, Leigh and others know all too well the dark and horrifying world of forced prostitution. Over and over again, she's heard stories like Christine McDonald's. "I'd been branded like an animal, stabbed, held at gunpoint, chained to a leash in a closet. With a life like that," she said wistfully, "all you can do is pray for death."
Fortunately for Christine and thousands of girls like her, leaders are more committed than ever to answering a different prayer – for help. With sex trafficking exploding in the U.S. (the FBI calls it the fastest-growing business of organized crime), Congress is preparing to take on the $9.8 billion industry that's buying and selling tens of thousands of little girls a year. For events like the Super Bowl, some cities have seen as many as 10,000 children brought in before the game hoping to do business with men who have money to burn. Increasingly, the targets aren't just runaways or desperate women either. Young victims are lured away from the mall by men who say they want to buy them clothes or dinner. And they never come back.
Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) is hoping to change that by zeroing in on one of the roots of the problem: online advertising. She knows that if the government can cut off trade at its hub – the Internet, where girls are marketed like common merchandise – it'll go a long way to stopping the sales in and out of hotels. Under her bill, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, or SAVE, it would be a crime for any company to knowingly run ads, or profit from ads, that offer forced sex with a child. Based on her research, just one online service featured more than 2,800 little girls!
In a Judiciary hearing this week, members did their part to crack down on the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world and voted 23-4 to send the SAVE Act to the floor. Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is just one of the many leaders sickened by the torture these teenagers experience. "We've been referring all morning to this epidemic as 'domestic minor sex trafficking,'" he said. "But let's call it what is really is: the forcible rape of children for profit. ...In September 2010, less than four years ago, the House passed a bill... that explicitly made it a crime to advertise animal crush videos. Certainly, advertisements that offer sex with children are as worthy, if not more worthy, of congressional attention as those seeking to subject animals to harm."
What's even more encouraging is that Wagner's bill isn't the only one aimed at ending this kind of modern slavery. Clearly, Congress is rededicating itself to ending the crisis and restoring these victims to the wholeness they deserve as humans made in God's image. We congratulate the House for fighting the problem head-on and look forward to working with members to raise awareness of one of America's worst nightmares.