Reaching a milestone: Congress holds first briefing on DOMESTIC human trafficking

Shared Hope Founder and President Linda Smith with Ernie Allen, President annd CEO for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Shared Hope Founder and President Linda Smith with Ernie Allen, President and CEO for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Eliza Thurston

Eliza Thurston is currently a summer intern at Shared Hope Arlington office. Eliza is a student at Grove City College, where she is studying Politics and French. During her internship, Eliza has been working on college awareness materials addressing Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.

This past week, after taking the Capitol by storm with our National Report deliveries, the Capitol took us by storm! Pounding the marble paid off (see Kelly’s post), packing Rayburn 2226 Tuesday morning for the Congressional Human Trafficking Briefing. Not only was this the first ever Briefing on domestic minor sex trafficking–focusing specifically on trafficking happening here in the United States–but it was also the official release of our National Report. Definitely an exciting day for Shared Hope!

When we arrived around 9:30 to do last minute preparations, we found the staffers from Congressman Poe’s office already adding chairs to make more room for attendees. After preparing Reports for each panelist and arranging Shared Hope material on the information table, the other interns and I took a place at the door to greet people as they walked in. By 10AM people were lining the walls, standing wherever they could find a spot. Even while Ambassador Louis deBaca, one of the first speakers, delivered his remarks, people were still squeezing in! The sense of urgency and excitement in the room was powerful.

Congressman Christopher Smith, Co-Chair of the Human Trafficking Caucus,  opened the Briefing with a passionate introduction. Among other things, Rep. Smith asked the Caucus to appropriate funds for safe houses for domestic minor sex trafficking victims. The National Report found a severe lack of restorative homes for these victims, and recommends that Congress release money to support existing homes and make funds available for new ones. We were very grateful to hear Congressman Smith echoing our concerns.

Allison Hollabaugh, a representative from Congressman Smith’s office, then introduced Ambassador Luis deBaca, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Ambassador deBaca’s energy and enthusiasm shined through his speech, and his introduction set the tone for a constructive and informative dialogue. Having just returned from a visit overseas, he focused on the progress being made in the international fight against human trafficking. He wrapped up by returning the focus to United States, and on the trafficking–particularly the sex trafficking of children–that happens right here in our own cities. Bret Rumbeck, representing Congressman Jim Costa’s office, then introduced the Department of Justice panelists: Andrew Oosterbaan, Chief of the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; and Robert Moossy, Director of the DOJ’s Human Trafficking Protection. Both explained what the Department is doing to fight sex trafficking domestically, and emphasized the need for greater partnership among the government, law enforcement as well as with NGOs such as Shared Hope.

The NGO panelists (that’s us!) were next. Along with our very own Linda Smith, the panel included Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Bradley Myles, Deputy Director of Polaris Project. Whereas the DOJ panel gave a government/law enforcement perspective, the NGO panel really dug into the victim side of trafficking. Their stories revealed the human side of what the victims go through, and the hope that organizations like Shared Hope are shining into the dark world of trafficking.

The presentation was made particularly moving when the lights dimmed and the shocking footage from our undercover investigations flashed across the TV screen. Not only did the video show the trafficking transactions that happen nightly on our streets, but it also put a real face on the victims. “Tonya’s” interview closed the video with a heart-wrenching question, challenging all of us in the audience. Describing the exploitation and abuse she suffered night after night after night at the hands of her pimps, she asked “Who was there to stop them? No one…no one was there.”

Tuesday’s Briefing demonstrated that there is someone working to stop them–countless NGOs, concerned individuals, Congressmen, law enforcement, the State Department and the Department of Justice, to be exact. It is an uphill battle, but if the passion and creativity displayed by those participating in the Briefing is any indicator, we are definitely a force to be reckoned with!

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