Senators spar over sex trafficking legislation

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are arguing over legislation that until hours ago, had bipartisan support: a sex trafficking bill that includes language that limits women’s access to abortions. But Senate Republicans say they simply want to end the seedy business they’re calling modern day slavery – sex trafficking — not engage in partisan politics.

“The average age of a victim of human trafficking is a girl between the ages of 12 and 14,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan Republican. It’s his bill, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, that the Senate is currently debating. It’s a bill that, for the first time, would prosecute johns, those buying sex from children.

“Let’s enforce these laws, let’s bring forward stiffer penalties, and let’s protect our children,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), standing next to her Senate colleagues during a press conference Thursday.

Here’s some of what’s inside the legislation: criminals who purchase sex from trafficking victims will be prosecuted as sex trafficking offenders; they would have to pay a $5,000 fine for the crime, and the money would go into a Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund. It also includes funding for private, municipal, and state efforts to establish anti-trafficking law enforcement units and task forces, and a Computer Forensics Unit and a Child Exploitation Investigations Unit within the Cyber Crimes Center.

But some Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), are trying to kill the bill – saying they weren’t aware of the bill’s ties to limiting abortions. But Republicans are calling the Democratic tactic a “phantom problem.”

“It really is unconscionable, that the Democrats would put politics in front of solving a problem that in this country is in desperate need of a solution,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD).

Senator Rob Portman, stepping away from the crowd, says it’s political as usual.

“If people don’t support it they can vote against that language, but it shouldn’t be something that holds up progress on this important legislation. There will be plenty of time for politics, including next week when the budget comes up, and over the next year and two years as you get into this election. Let’s try to get some stuff done.”

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