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Reichert Opening Statement: Hearing on Preventing and Addressing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care

October 23, 2013

Welcome to our hearing today.
Before being elected to Congress, I spent over 32 years working in law enforcement in King County, Washington, becoming Sheriff in 1997. I saw firsthand the many tragedies children face when they’re not cared for by loving parents. It was in the Sheriff’s office where I first witnessed the horrors of child sex trafficking, and it convinced me we needed to do more to protect youth at risk of abuse. And in late summer, 1982 I began a 20-year journey that would focus my attention on this issue like nothing else ever could.
On August 12, 1982, I was called to investigate the death of a young woman whose body was found in the Green River in suburban Kent, Washington. Three days later, I received a call about two more bodies—both of young women—who had been found at that same location. Little did I know it that day, but finding these victims began our two-decade hunt for a man who became known as the Green River Killer, who once caught, confessed to killing more than 70 young women who had been involved in the sex trade.
Of the 49 known victims of the Green River Killer, at least 17 were minors—children who had been abused or neglected, who had run away from home, who had been victimized and ultimately killed. This issue is not an abstract problem in far-away places for me. This is personal.
As Chairman, I have focused on how we can improve the child welfare system and help children in foster care lead successful lives. One of the most devastating examples of the vulnerability of kids in foster care is when they become victims of sex trafficking. In 2010, officials in Los Angeles reported that 59 percent of juveniles arrested for prostitution were in foster care. Of children reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children who are also likely sex trafficking victims, 60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away. Research cited by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows the majority of sex trafficked youth experienced sexual abuse growing up, and victims of sexual abuse are 28 times more likely to be involved in prostitution than children who have not suffered such abuse.

We can’t continue to allow these kids to become victims of this terrible crime. We owe it to these children to ensure our nation’s foster care system does all it can to protect them so they can live safe, happy, and successful lives. For too many kids in foster care, we are not living up to that promise.
That’s why the topic of today’s hearing is so critical to me, and why I know it’s important to each of our witnesses today. I look forward to hearing from each of them.