On September 14th, 2023, The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance held a hearing to examine child sex trafficking, the increase in child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) online, and how social media and big tech companies perpetuate these issues within the United States and around the world.
The hearing began with an opening statement from Chairman Biggs (R-AZ) in which he discussed the increased use of social media platforms and other forms of technology that predators now use to target vulnerable populations, particularly youth in foster care. Biggs points to an uptick in child human trafficking, as more unaccompanied minors attempt to cross the southern border. Senator Dean (D-PA) provides an opening statement, calling attention to the horrors of trafficking within the United States and abroad, the need for services and programs that redirect victims of trafficking away from the criminal justice system, and the abilities that technology has given predators to exploit children across the globe.
Testimonies were given by John Pizzuro, CEO-Raven, NJ Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Anne Basham, Founder and Chair, Interparliamentary Taskforce on Human Trafficking, Vanessa Bautista, Global Survivor, Network-Survivor Leader/Advocate, John Tanagho, Executive Director, Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, Frank Russo, Center for Combatting Human Trafficking, International Justice Misson (IJM), Lori Cohen, Chief Executive officer for PACT, Protect All Children from Trafficking, Jose Alfaro, Board of Directors of the Human Trafficking Legal Center.
Mr. Pizurro emphasized that legislation is falling behind the technology putting children at risk, as there are not safety measures in place to prevent predators from accessing children or vice versa, nor specific requirements of the data that large tech companies and social media platforms scan for and report to law enforcement. Witnesses Ms. Bautista and Mr. Tanagho emphasized the importance of the removal of CSAM materials from the internet, the need to hold social media and tech companies accountable, and a need for technological prevention that disrupts CSAM. Social media and the internet have become major tools for predators to access children and can often go undetected.
Mr. Russo and Ms. Basham brought attention to child trafficking as a 150 billion dollar criminal enterprise, with 60% of child trafficking victims being current or former foster youth. Both witnesses discussed an increase in child trafficking along the southern border of the United States, as more children are attempting to migrate unaccompanied by an adult, leaving them vulnerable to smugglers, traffickers, and cartels–especially as many face language barriers and are seeking assistance. Unaccompanied youth entering the US often enter the foster care system, a specific group that human trafficking rings target. Ms. Basham pointed to Texas and how Child Protective Services has paid 30 million dollars to off-duty police officers to supervise children in hotels and churches as there are not enough families to care for the children within the foster care system.
There is a variety of legislation being discussed to address CSAM materials, improving the ability of law enforcement to catch perpetrators of child trafficking and exploitation, as well as providing victim focused and culturally specific resources and programs for survivors of exploitation and trafficking. Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee proposed the Stop Human Trafficking in School Zones Act, which establishes an enhanced penalty for perpetrators of child exploitation that occurs near or within school zones or during school activities.
By Harper Dilley, Policy Intern