The U.S. House has approved a bill written by Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen requiring states to treat minors involved in sex trafficking as victims rather than criminals.
The Star Tribune reports Paulsen's bill and a similar one written by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar are modeled on Minnesota's Safe Harbor Act.
In urging colleagues to pass the measure Paulsen argued that many sex trafficking victims are too young to vote, drive, or have earned a high school diploma. The House approved his bill on a voice vote.
It was part of a package of five bills aimed at attacking sex trafficking. The House passed all five Tuesday. The Hill reports the issue has been on Congress' agenda but recently gained new momentum following reports of girls being abducted by an extremist group in Nigeria.
MinnPost says a dozen states have laws similar to Minnesota's Safe Harbor Act.
Paulsen's bill, which is called the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2014, would require such legislation in every state within three years. It also would make victims eligible for the Job Corps program to help them find employment and avoid a return to the sex trade.
The Hill says the Department of Homeland Security has estimated that trafficking is a $32 billion a year industry in the U.S. The Star Tribune notes there's been bipartisan support over the past year for a number of bills targeting it.
To some at the national level Minnesota seems too wholesome to be a poster child for sex trafficking. But USA Today last month noted an estimate that 200 adolescents per month are sold for sex in the state, which also had 400 trafficking convictions in 2011.
Last year prosecutors in St. Paul said a tip from the grandmother of a 15-year-old being recruited by traffickers led them to break up a large family-run prostitution ring.
The Hill reports that in a speech supporting Paulsen's bill Rep. Ted Poe of Texas observed: "There's no such thing as a child prostitute. Children cannot consent to sex."
Here's what Paulsen said on the House floor: