Tipton: Congress strengthens commitment to fight human trafficking (column) | VailDaily.com

Tipton: Congress strengthens commitment to fight human trafficking (column)

Scott Tipton
Valley Voices

Scott Tipton

"Three western Colorado men arrested in FBI's sex trafficking operation."

"Car accident leads to arrest for human trafficking."

"Six local men arrested as part of national child sex sting operation."

These headlines from our local papers describe some of the worst crimes imaginable happening in our own communities.

While many are under the impression that human trafficking cases in the United States are few and far between, the harsh reality is that human trafficking takes place in every state in America and in every corner of Colorado. The Polaris Project found that there were 8,524 reported cases of human trafficking in the United States in 2017, with 110 of those cases occurring in Colorado. These are just the cases we know about.

With two major interstates running through Colorado, many homes, businesses and hotels in our state have been used as sites to sell human beings for sex and labor. Due to its direct proximity to the Interstate 70 corridor, Mesa County in the 3rd Congressional District has been a frequent site of these crimes.

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However, the dawn of the internet is what truly has caused our state's human trafficking problem to skyrocket. The victims of human trafficking are often young and vulnerable children, lured into this modern-day slavery through social media platforms or internet chat rooms. Perpetrators of these crimes then use website advertisements to facilitate the sale of these victims. Tragically, with such technology, purchasing a child online can be as easy as ordering food for delivery.

Human trafficking is a human rights violation that has no place in our society, and my heart breaks hearing about the young lives destroyed by these terrible crimes. Fortunately, this past year, Congress has taken swift action to discover what loopholes still exist that allow human traffickers to continue to perpetrate such evil crimes and make sure they are closed for good.

A 2017 report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that the top executives of Backpage.com, a classified advertising website, knew about sex trafficking ads on their website and did nothing to discontinue them. Due to the ambiguities in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the operators of this website were protected from criminal prosecution, preventing too many victims from receiving the justice they deserve.

In response to this grievous injustice, my Congressional colleagues and I voted to pass H.R. 1865, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. This legislation would amend and clarify Section 230, allowing state authorities to investigate and prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking, delivering long-awaited justice to the victims. This legislation was signed into law by President Donald Trump last week but has proved meaningful well before becoming law. In fact, just after its passage, websites such as Craigslist and Reddit responded by shutting down their personal ads sections.

Ensuring that the perpetrators face severe consequences for their actions is only half of the solution. We must also make sure law-enforcement officials have the training they need to recognize and prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place.

That is why last week, the House passed two pieces of legislation that will require several law enforcement agencies to continually stay up to date with the best practice methods for preventing sex crimes. In an age where technology is constantly advancing, law enforcement's responses to crimes that are facilitated by technology must advance at an equal pace.

These bills will go a long way to combat human trafficking, but it is going to take more than just action from the federal government to fully eradicate human trafficking. Progress can only be made if actors from the federal, state and local levels collaborate to find solutions that best fit their community. It is up to all of us to end human trafficking in Colorado, and I look forward to working with all of you to find the right solutions.

If you believe you are witnessing someone being trafficked, then call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

U.S. Rep. Scott R. Tipton represents Colorado's 3rd Congressional District.