Weekly Columns

Human trafficking, the multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise of smuggling people for forced labor and sex slavery, continues to be a growing problem. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center data shows that in the first six months of 2016, 26 human trafficking cases were reported in Arkansas.

An investigation into human trafficking by an Arkansas Police Department resulted in the arrest of two out-of-state residents this month when they traveled to the state to pick up an Arkansas girl who police say they were planning to use for child prostitution. The reality is human trafficking is happening in our state and all across the country. It’s a much bigger problem than most of us realize, and we need to take action to prevent people from being victimized.

It’s a very real problem. In June, an undercover police operation rescued a 15-year-old Arkansas girl in Louisiana who was a victim of human trafficking. In February, more than 40 men were arrested in Little Rock on charges associated with human trafficking.

Combatting human trafficking requires a meaningful commitment by state, federal and international communities. In 2013, Arkansas legislators passed legislation to combat human trafficking. I’m continuing this momentum in Washington. This Congress, I successfully worked with my colleagues on multiple pieces of legislation, some of which were passed and signed into law, such as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. This law ensures victims of human trafficking receive services to help restore their lives while strengthening law enforcement tools and resources to protect victims. Congress also passed International Megan’s Law, which establishes the “Angel Watch Center.” This center is responsible for giving and receiving notifications of convicted sex offenders travelling to or from the U.S. and requires a unique passport identifier for child sex offenders.

Human trafficking is a global problem, and there must be international engagement in order to combat it. That is why this Congress I introduced an amendment to improve the Human Trafficking Special Watch List. This proposal would ensure countries continually failing to make anti-trafficking progress such as prevention, criminal laws or victim services would face certain sanctions by the U.S. I also introduced an amendment to elevate the status of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking within the State Department, which would increase its effectiveness. These are very important steps I believe our country must take in the fight against human trafficking, and I continue to work hard with my colleagues on both of these. 

Requiring such work on this issue from the international community means that the U.S. must lead by example. Last year we learned about numerous alleged incidents of inappropriate and illegal acts that were linked to the solicitation of sex by State Department officials worldwide. These actions cannot and will not be tolerated. To hold those accountable and prevent similar future incidents, I sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and the Inspector General urging the department to institute stricter punishment and create a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior.

We must work with national organizations and the international community to support victims and end human trafficking worldwide, while working to break the cycle of human trafficking here at home.