WASHINGTON (AP) - The threat of human sex trafficking needs more attention from Congress and police, Rep. Kristi Noem said Wednesday.
Noem said at the outset of a Congressional subcommittee hearing focused on the issue that she once viewed the issue as limited to places like parts of Europe or southeast Asia, "not here in America - let alone my home state of South Dakota."
"It's happening in our backyard, every single day," the Republican said during subcommittee hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.
Noem has made human trafficking a signature issue, working with House leadership on potential legislation that addresses the issue. Earlier this week, she hosted an event in South Dakota called the "Justice Against Slavery Summit" that focused on potential solutions.
Wednesday's House panel included testimony experts in human trafficking. According to a 2011 FBI report, nearly 300,000 children in the United States are at risk of being exploited.
One of the witnesses was Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. She serves as co-chair of an Arizona task force on human trafficking. McCain said one of the most troubling aspects of human trafficking is when she talks to survivors and hears their stories.
"The realization that there were likely many people along their path that could have done something to help and didn't," she said.
Noem said it was important consider new approaches to the issue so that "no survivor falls through the cracks and every perpetrator is brought to justice."
Noem has worked on four different bills that would address human trafficking, including one that would establish safe harbor laws so that minors engaged in prostitution are treated as trafficking victims not criminals. None of the pieces of legislation she has worked on have become law, but several may be included in broader legislation the House is expected to consider later this year.