Making progress in fight to end exploitation

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Serving on the Judiciary Committee gives me the opportunity to play a role in combating child exploitation in the United States and abroad. This is an issue I’m particularly passionate about, and I’m pleased to report that some important progress is being made.

Before I go further, let me say this: sexual crimes against children are shocking and ugly, which is what makes this subject difficult to talk about sometimes. Most Americans probably do not know the extent to which children in our country and around the globe are at risk of exploitation. That’s what makes it so important that we talk about this horrible subject and address the problem head on.

I recently met with experts from the Department of Justice to discuss how unintended loopholes in current law allow child predators to evade prosecution for certain abuses. Certain types of sexual contact with children are not explicitly covered under the criminal definition of “illicit sexual conduct.” This allows child predators engaged in global sex tourism to evade punishment for acts that are clearly abusive. Additionally, current sentencing code does not treat contact offenses against child victims under the age of 12 the same as it does those against victims between the ages of 12-18.

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Though unintentional, these loopholes are harmful and unacceptable, which is why I introduced legislation to fix these technical flaws and better equip law enforcement to protect children and punish abusers.

My bill, the Global Child Protection Act, specifically would expand the criminal definition of “illicit sexual conduct” to include “sexual contact,” thus allowing authorities to crack down on global sex tourism and punish these criminals. The bill also seeks to protect the youngest child victims by broadening the sentencing code to ensure that all types of contact offenses against children of all ages are treated with the same level of seriousness.

Last week, the Judiciary Committee met to consider the Global Child Protection Act. As I told my colleagues, it is our enduring responsibility to protect those among us who often cannot protect themselves. We have law enforcement professionals working hard every day to protect children and punish abusers, and we need to ensure they have all legal tools at their disposal to do their job.

After discussion and debate, the Judiciary Committee voted to pass my bill and send it to the full House of Representatives for a vote. I’m really proud of the measures my bill would accomplish, but it’s just one part of a slate of Judiciary Committee bills aimed to combat these crimes against children. Last week the Committee also approved H.R. 1842, the Strengthening Children’s Safety Act. This bill enhances penalties for sex offenders who fail to register in the national sex offender registry when they have a prior state conviction for a violent crime.

The Judiciary Committee also recently passed the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, the Child Protection Improvements Act, and the Targeting Child Predators Act. These bills aim to stop child predators and sex offenders from joining youth organizations by ensuring investigators have the ability to conduct proper background checks on potential staff and volunteers.

I’m excited to be working on the Judiciary Committee because it has jurisdiction over several issues I’m passionate about. I’m really proud of the Committee’s quick progress to address some of these unspeakable problems facing the most vulnerable members of our society.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband Riley and their two children.