By Rep. Elise Stefanik

Our country has faced momentous challenges to start off 2021 – the ongoing battle against theCOVID-19 pandemic, the swearing-in of a new Congress, abhorrent violence at the Capitol, and the inauguration of a new president after a highly contentious election. While these events have saturated the news cycles and captured our attention, we must not forget what the month of January is dedicated to – National Human Trafficking Awareness.

Ahorrific epidemicthat too often goes unreported and unnoticed, the scourge of human trafficking penetrates our communities and ruins the lives of Americans of every race, religion, and creed.

Some of our most vulnerable fellow Americans, including runaway and homeless youth, individuals who have experienced past violence and trauma, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, are most often taken captive by criminal human trafficking networks.

Every public official, lawmaker, and person privileged enough to make a difference has a moral obligation to shine a spotlight on this evil reality and help eradicate it from our society.

As the Representative for New York’s 21st Congressional District, I take that moral obligation very seriously.

New York ranks fourth in the United States – behind Florida, Texas, and California – for the number of human trafficking cases reported in 2019, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. While the majority of reported cases were in New York City, the rural North Country that I proudly represent accounted for 30% of them. This sobering statistic should scare every New Yorker, especially when we think about the tragic victims who remain unidentified.

Since taking office, I have joined my Democratic and Republican colleagues to co-sponsor and pass significant laws aimed at combatting human trafficking across the United States, including the Human Trafficking Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery Act, the Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, the Global Child Protection and Targeting Child Predator Acts, the Empowering Educators to Prevent Trafficking Act and many more.

I am proud of these bipartisan solutions that are actively helping to assist the selfless law enforcement officers who are bringing the disgusting perpetrators responsible to justice.

These key pieces of legislation are also supporting the educators who inform our youth about the dangerous realities of human trafficking and the state and local programs that provide substantial assistance to victims.

I worked tirelessly with the Trump administration to pass one of the largest packages to combat human trafficking in United States history, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act; and I implore all of my colleagues in the 117th Congress to recommit that same effort in working with the Biden administration, too.

I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle – in the House and Senate – to put aside partisan games and inflammatory rhetoric when it comes to this issue so we can keep fighting to finally bring human trafficking to an end.

While National Human Trafficking Awareness Month may be over, we must remain steadfast in this fight in the months and years ahead to end the slow and quiet ravaging of human trafficking in every one of our communities.

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