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Kirk, Alvarez Outline Anti-Sex Trafficking Agenda

Kirk unveils legislation to prohibit sex ads on websites like Backpage.com, which is responsible for more than 70 percent of prostitution advertising in America

Monday, Mar 10, 2014
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CHICAGO — U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez today highlighted the need for a federal-local partnership to end sex trafficking in the United States, including efforts to stop websites like Backpage.com from facilitating the trafficking through online sex ads.

“As President Obama has said, it’s time to call human trafficking what it really is – modern day slavery,” Sen. Kirk said.  “Illinois was the first state in the nation to ratify the 13th amendment that abolished slavery – it makes sense for Illinois to lead the nation in a bipartisan effort to end human trafficking.  We can start by putting an end to sex ads on websites like Backpage.com.”

According to the University of Illinois, between 16,000 and 25,000 women and girls are involved in commercial sex trade annually in the Chicago metropolitan area.  One-third get involved in prostitution by age 15 while 62 percent are involved by age 18.  According to the National Association of Attorneys General, Backpage.com—owned by Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin of Phoenix, Ariz.—is responsible for more than 70 percent of prostitution advertising in the United States.  Backpage's "adult services" section is notorious for advertising on behalf of child sex traffickers. 

Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, owners of Backpage.com

The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act, federal legislation Sen. Kirk will introduce this week in the Senate, would allow the federal government to prosecute Backpage.com and any other website that facilitates the victimization of children through commercial advertising.  Current law unfairly protects Backpage.com from prosecution simply because they exist online.

“Everyone in America should be outraged that Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin can make millions by victimizing young women,” Sen. Kirk added.  “It’s time to bring Lacey and Larkin to justice.” 

During the press conference, State’s Attorney Alvarez pointed to real-life examples of sex trafficking victims featured in Backpage.com advertisements.

  

Samples of advertisements found on Backpage.com

State’s Attorney Alvarez noted her office’s Human Trafficking Initiative and her office's Human Trafficking Unit, which is staffed by specially trained prosecutors, investigators and victim specialists. 

The State's Attorney also helped draft and pass the Illinois Safe Children's Act, one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in the country aimed at protecting children who are victims of sex trafficking.  Since that law's passage, the State's Attorney's office has charged 93 defendants with trafficking and related laws at the state level.

“Through unprecedented law enforcement collaboration and first-of-its-kind legislation we have been working diligently at the state level to ensure that the sexual services of vulnerable children and young men and women will no longer be for sale here in Chicago and Cook County, ” said State’s Attorney Alvarez.  “I am extremely pleased to be a partner with Senator Kirk in supporting this important legislation which has the potential to bring meaningful federal penalties and resources to bear in our ongoing and coordinated attack on the devastating epidemic of sex trafficking."

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart also voiced his support for the initiatives to fight child sex trafficking, emphasizing efforts including his Human Trafficking Response Team (HTRT), launched in 2009, and his campaign to shut down the now-defunct “adult entertainment” section of the website Craigslist.  When that section of Craigslist was shut down, it is estimated that the market for such services shrank by almost half.

“Forums like Backpage have become playgrounds for pimps and traffickers, facilitating the destruction of countless lives in the process,” said Sheriff Dart.  “While we all know Backpage’s business model is immoral, it should be illegal as well. I commend Senator Kirk for his effort to bring justice to the victims of trafficking and sites like Backpage.”

“It’s important for all levels of government to cooperate on these very real life-and-death issues,” Sen. Kirk said.  “I’m proud to stand alongside State’s Attorney Alvarez on this important issue.”

Sen. Kirk’s efforts include:

Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act

The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act will make it unlawful to sell or commercially promote an advertisement that facilitates kidnapping; trafficking or exploitation of children; sexual abuse or illegal sex; pimping, prostitution, child sex abuse and trafficking.  The legislation will allow the U.S. Attorney to shut down advertisements on websites promoting underage sex and, if convicted, send offenders to prison for up to five years.

Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking (SETT) — S. 1733

According to the University of Illinois, in metropolitan Chicago 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are involved in commercial sex trade annually, with one-third of them first getting involved in prostitution by the age of 15, and 62 percent by the age of 18. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (SETT) introduced by Sens. Kirk, Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) would combat sex trafficking by requiring minors who are sold for sex to be considered victims, not defendants. The “safe harbor” provisions from states like Illinois serve as a model for SETT.

  • Includes a provision modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws. The provision requires all states have a safe harbor provision to help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but are instead treated as victims. When a state passes a safe harbor law, it means that kids sold for sex should be steered towards child protection services, rather than being arrested, charged, or convicted under a state’s criminal laws. Current federal law only suggests a model state statute – this bill will require that states have a safe harbor as a condition for receiving federal grants.
  • Allows victims of sex trafficking to participate in the Job Corps program to help them get back on their feet. Our Job Corps programs already help teen moms, runaways, and kids who drop out of school. This bill makes clear that victims of sex trafficking should be eligible for our current job training and skills building programs to help empower sex trafficking victims so that they have the tools they need to find a way out of the cycle.
  • Helps victims pursue financial restitution and recover damages. In some parts of the law, victims of federal crimes can recover triple damages from people who harm them. Under this new bill, when sex trafficking victims sue their perpetrators, they’ll be able to get the damages they are due from the people who harmed them. The bill will also encourage better tracking of financial restitution orders so that victims can actually collect on the restitution they are due.
  • Creates a National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking. The National Strategy will help coordinate efforts to investigate and prevent human trafficking between federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. This will help set clear goals and focus resources to help combat human trafficking. The bill will also encourage better data sharing between different law enforcement agencies.
  • Strengthens requirements for convicted sex trafficking offenders to be listed higher on the National Sex Offender Registry so they are reported and tracked closely to ensure they can’t victimize anyone else. Convicted offenders are classified into different Tiers, based on the severity of their crimes. The different Tier numbers correspond to how frequently a sex offender is required to report relevant personal information and make in-person appearances before law enforcement. Most sex trafficking offenders are currently convicted as Tier II criminals. The bill would reclassify those convicted of state or federal sex trafficking crimes into the more stringent Tier III. This means they must register for life and appear in person every 3 months to have a picture taken and verify registry information.
  • Strengthens the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Right now, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline helps connect victims with services they need and passes on crime tips to law enforcement. This bill would make sure that the hotline is backed by the force of law. Although the Hotline operates with some federal authorization, this bill puts the National Human Trafficking Hotline on par with other national hotlines designed to serve victims.

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act - S. 1738

  • Creates a “Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund” within the Treasury, which the Attorney General can use to fund victims’ support programs for victims of human trafficking and child pornography. This fund is deficit neutral and financed through fines on persons convicted of child pornography, human trafficking, child prostitution, sexual exploitation, and human smuggling offenses. This fund will increase the federal resources available for domestic human trafficking victim support by up to $30 million per year.
  • Allows American citizens and lawful permanent residents who are victims of human trafficking to obtain official recognition of their status from the Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, only non-citizens are eligible for obtaining an official certification—creating confusion, and limiting the amount and quality of services available for domestic human trafficking victims.
  • Creates a victim-centered model block grant to help States and local governments develop and implement comprehensive victim-centered programs to train law enforcement to rescue victims, prosecute human traffickers, and restore the lives of victims. This grant program will be funded entirely through the “Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund” created by the bill.
  • Will increase the availability of restitution and witness assistance for trafficking victims by allowing all property involved in a human trafficking offense to be forfeited to the government, while allowing the Attorney General to use the Asset Forfeiture Fund to compensate victims who provide information or act as witnesses.
  • Allows state and local human trafficking task forces to obtain wiretap warrants within their own state courts without federal approval in order to investigate crimes of child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and human trafficking.
  • Improves the federal racketeering statute by allowing law enforcement to prosecute any person or entity that knowingly assists an organized crime enterprise in committing two or more acts of human trafficking. Current racketeering law only allows for prosecution of a person who participates in the “operation” or “management” of a criminal enterprise, not persons who provide material support from outside the enterprise’s management hierarchy.
  • Requires regular reporting on the number of human trafficking crimes by making human trafficking a Part I offense for purposes of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Requires law enforcement to upload available photos of missing into the National Criminal Information Center database and to notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of any child reported missing from a foster care family home or childcare institution.
  • Reduces demand for human trafficking by clarifying current law and encouraging police, prosecutors, judges, and juries to target and punish persons who purchase illicit sexual activities from trafficking victims as human traffickers, rather than petty criminals.
  • Increases the maximum penalties for five human trafficking-related offenses: (1) enticement into slavery; (2) possession of slaves aboard vessels; (3) obstruction of a human trafficking investigation; and; (4) repeat child exploitation and trafficking offenders. Clarifies the sex tourism statute so that law enforcement no longer has to prove that the sexual exploitation of a minor was the sole or dominant reason for travel involving sex tourism.
  • Reduces affirmative defenses for persons who exploit children through interstate prostitution—requiring them to show by clear and convincing evidence, rather than a preponderance of the evidence (current law), that they believed the child to be an adult.

For more information on Senator Kirk's efforts to end child sex trafficking, visit his website here

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