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Bill to fight human trafficking goes to president with Wagner, Kirk provisions

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, wears a bracelet made to raise awareness of human sex trafficking.
St. Louis Public Radio file photo

WASHINGTON - The House Tuesday gave overwhelming approval to an anti-human trafficking bill, containing provisions sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. The measure won final approval on a vote of 420 to 3.

“This legislation represents a significant step forward in the federal government’s efforts to combat the scourge of modern-day slavery known as human trafficking,” said Wagner in comments on the House floor immediately prior to the vote. She said the bill “makes enormous progress in the fight against trafficking by providing resources to law enforcement officials and collecting fines from sex traffickers that go into a new fund for victims.”

The final bill, S178, incorporates several other measures, including legislation sponsored by Wagner and Kirk making it illegal to knowing advertise sex services of human trafficking victims under age 18. Kirk praised the House for passing the bill “that protects our most vulnerable and punishes those who profit from selling children online for sex,” Kirk continued. “I urge President Obama to swiftly sign this into law so that those websites like backpage.com and their advertisers can finally be held liable for aiding in human trafficking.”

Some critics have raised questions about the legality of holding websites liable for the content of advertisements provided by customers. Earlier in the year, Kirk, made changes to his language designed to address those legal concerns.

Other provisions in the bill increase the maximum penalties for human trafficking-related offenses including enticement into slavery, obstruction of a human trafficking investigation, and repeat offenses of child exploitation.

The bill includes a program for training veterans to help with the investigation of on-line sex trafficking. Another provision authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to collaborate with the Department of Defense and the National Association to Protect Children - a national nonprofit organization.

Additionally, it would allow Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to research and develop advanced technology to investigate child exploitation crimes, including child victim identification, counter trafficking in persons, child pornography and advanced forensics, according to a statement from Kirk’s office.

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