I was honored to bring together a panel of experts on human trafficking as I hosted a summit aimed at increasing awareness of this horrific crime and providing tools for action to address this form of human slavery.
Those who came to the well-attended Summit on Human Trafficking, held at Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia, heard that while it is easy to think of human trafficking as something that takes place only in big cities or in other countries, this appalling crime is taking place right in our own backyard. In fact, the Department of Justice’s Western District of Missouri alone is currently prosecuting 15 cases involving human trafficking.
In May, my colleagues and I passed a series of bills aimed at preventing or eliminating the spread of trafficking and protecting the victims of this crime against humanity. Many of these victims are pre-teens and young teenagers, with 80 percent of the victims being female. My hope is that the information shared at this summit will help stop this horrific crime.
The US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2007 revealed 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Up to 50 percent are minors. In addition, the most recent U.S. government estimates are that as many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked into the United States each year, and some observers have estimated that as many as 200,000 American children are vulnerable to trafficking within the United States during the course of a year.
Each of the Summit participants, including two women who survived this heinous crime, brought unique perspectives and insights along with valuable suggestions for combating it, sharing the fact that many people are sold into prostitution at an early age and are enslaved until they are no longer wanted. This crime must be stopped. Participants in the summit included: Dr. Deborah Hume, from the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition; Wende Baker, a Victim Specialist with the FBI; Christine McDonald, a human trafficking survivor; Adam Kavanaugh, with the St. Louis County Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit; Gail Reynoso, a Program Development Specialist with the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Misty Losinger, a human trafficking survivor and Steve Dunlap, the founder of On Time Ministry. I thank all those who took part and who are working so hard to right this wrong.
While in Columbia, I also had an opportunity to lend a hand at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, bagging potatoes for hungry families. The Food Bank acquires and distributes millions of pounds of donated food each year.
The food goes to soup kitchens, emergency food pantries, shelters for the abused and homeless, programs for low-income children and senior citizens and rehabilitation centers. It was a pleasure to help take part, in some small way, in the effort to feed our needy families.
In Washington, the House approved the FY 2015 Defense Appropriations Bill. This bipartisan effort gives our men and women in uniform the tools and resources they need to protect our nation from current and emerging threats. It supports key readiness programs to prepare our troops for combat and peacetime missions by providing for operations and addressing readiness shortfalls; it ensures a well-equipped, well-prepared force by providing for essential upgrades and procurement of platforms; and it prepares for future security threats by providing for research and development. The bottom line, however, is that we are facing a scarcity of funds due to sequestration, and drastic cuts to our military have been made.
I am happy that there are a number of provisions in this bill that closely mirror the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that we passed earlier this year. Those provisions, such as the funding for additional Growler aircraft, keeping the Apache helicopter with the National Guard and rejecting proposals for cutting benefits and another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) are very beneficial for Missourians and other Americans alike. I am particularly pleased that funding has been provided to save the A-10. There is no better aircraft to fulfill the military’s critical close air support mission.
I participated in two important hearings in the Armed Services Committee. The first was a classified briefing learning more about the deal our government agreed to which resulted in the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. While I am glad our soldier has been released, I question the wisdom of exchanging five Taliban leaders for him. In addition, I believe our Administration violated the law by not notifying Members of Congress about the swap. Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act requires the Administration to notify Congress before releasing terrorists. We now know 80-90 people within the Administration knew but not one representative of the people was made aware of this deal. This is wrong. The President should respect the laws and be willing to consult elected officials before making such a consequential decision.
In addition, we held a hearing on the ongoing discussions with Iran regarding its desired proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran must stop its march to nuclear capability. There is no reason for the Iranians to enrich uranium or develop a nuclear weapons program. With Iranian leadership threatening to destroy both Israel and the United States with a nuclear bomb, we must stand firm in our negotiations and insist they dismantle their centrifuges and pursue peaceful relations with other nations. The July 20th deadline to secure a resolution is fast approaching. I will continue to push the Administration to hold firm and do everything in our power to prevent further nuclear proliferation of the world’s leading supporter of terrorists.
Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting with the FFA group from my hometown of Archie. As a member of the Agriculture Committee, I know how important it is for organizations like the FFA to bring young leaders to Washington, D.C. to experience the agriculture policy process first hand and visit their Capitol. Additionally, I met with a group of students from the Fourth District who won an essay contest put on by the Missouri Electric Cooperatives. It was a true pleasure to meet with such a bright group of young leaders. I wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Have a great week.