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Bill would punish countries that legalize prostitution for driving human trafficking and sex slavery

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WASHINGTON, D.C., May 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – International sex traffickers will face increased pressure from the United States, if Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-IL, has his way.

Hultgren, who is part of the Congressional Human Trafficking Task Force, introduced an anti-sex trafficking bill on Thursday that would require the State Department to expand its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The report is part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and "is a powerful tool in the global anti-trafficking efforts," according to anti-trafficking activist Samantha Vardaman.

In a press release, Hultgren's office said that H.R. 4703 would put pressure on nations "to prohibit the purchase of commercial sex acts” – that is, prostitution – if the nations have that authority. Failing to do so "would be deemed a failure on the part of that government to make a serious and sustained effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts," said the release.

According to Vardaman, who is the senior director for anti-trafficking organization Shared Hope International, H.R. 4703 "is a clear and specific mandate to the State Department" to target the demand for human trafficking. She told LifeSiteNews that Hultgren's legislation would add teeth to the TIP report, which she said has been used effectively "with regard to demand."

"We know that demand is why sex trafficking exists," Vardaman explained. "If people weren't buying commercial sex acts or demanding forced labor, there would be no trafficking."

Vardaman says that Hultgren's bill highlights that "if a country can prohibit purchase of commercial sex acts and fails to, then they should be considered to be failing to deter demand." According to Vardaman, this means the nation is "failing to make serious efforts to eliminate trafficking."

"The two are inextricably linked," she says. "HR 4703 is a thoughtful, surgical approach to reinforcing the U.S. leadership on eliminating human trafficking globally."

A spokesperson for Hultgren told LifeSiteNews that the Congressman "takes sex trafficking seriously. Representing suburbs of Chicago, which is a hub for traffickers, he is very aware of its devastating harm at home and overseas."

Illinois has been ranked as "the fifth highest [in] call volume, falling behind only New York, Florida, Texas, and California" by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). The statistic was found using the number of calls to the NHTRC hotline.

Hultgren's bill comes two days after the House of Representatives passed five largely domestic anti-sex trafficking bills. All of the bills received bipartisan support, including the "Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act," which has law enforcement officials treat children as sex trafficking victims, not criminals.

Prostitution and sex trafficking have long been tied.

In 2008, then-Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department said that "prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing and fuels trafficking in persons. Turning people into dehumanized commodities creates an enabling environment for human trafficking.”

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Hultgren also cites "the findings of an empirical analysis...of 150 countries" performed in 2012 that shows "on average legalized prostitution increases human trafficking inflows."

The 2007 TIP report said that "where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.”

Since many prostitutes are minor, their actions are automatically "considered sex trafficking" because "under federal law, inducing someone under the age of 18 to perform a sex act in exchange for something of value" is illegal, according to Just Facts. "Force, fraud, or coercion need not be involved.”

A 2001 survey found that, of women who "currently or recently worked as prostitutes in the Chicago metropolitan area," over 60 percent "said they entered prostitution before the age of 18, and 35 percent said they entered prostitution before the age of 16."

A study from the University of Pennsylvania that "interviewed children in 17 U.S. cities found that the 'the age range of entry into prostitution' was 12-14 years for the girls and 11-13 years for the boys."

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