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Lawmakers and activists: search for missing kids will help end trafficking

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WASHINGTON – "Guys will just approach left and right. And they're college guys, business guys. The creepy ones are the ones in the black sedans," Andrea Powell says.

The co-founder of Fair Girls, a Washington-based non-profit created to help sex trafficking victims, is describing the men she says are paying young girls for sex.

"It's modern day slavery and America has a bigger problem with that than it thinks it does," Powell said about the sex trade.

The Fair Girls office is modest, but it is a bright spot in what's become a dim world for thousands of children.

As Powell sits at her desk she says most of the young girls she works with at Fair Girls are trafficked as soon as they leave foster care.

"Every child in that situation needs to have one loving caring adult and that person needs to follow them all the way through adulthood," she said. "Because what they are learning in the foster care system is that you are only as good as the check that comes with you so they are already learning that they are a commodity."

Just a few miles away on Capitol Hill, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is working on new legislation aimed at better protecting missing children so that they do not get involved in trafficking. If passed, the bill would require law enforcement to update missing children records, coordinate with child welfare systems, and allow state missing persons units to update information to a missing child entry in the National Crime Information Center.

"It's an issue where I think there is an exciting opportunity here, to change the dynamic, to help save some of these kids, and to help stop this horrific practice that we see throughout our state of sex trafficking," Portman said.

Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) is talking about sex trafficking, too. He signed on to a letter asking United States Attorney General Eric holder to shut down the online site backpage.com, saying the site pulls in millions of dollars each year by advertising children for sex services.

At Fair Girls, Powell scrolls through backpage.com and says there are up to 20,000 ads on the site every day. Powell said victims have told her they are forced to have sex with up to 10 men each night.

"People think sex trafficking is about sex. It's not about sex; it's about money and power. And if traffickers could traffic pink elephants they would, if that made more money. They are trafficking women and girls because there is a demand for bought sex in America at an epidemic level," Powell said.

That demand takes victims across state lines, which makes locating missing children quickly a priority shared by lawmakers and victims' advocates like Powell.

"We have girls who have shown up here in Washington, D.C. from Ohio and Iowa and Michigan and all over the country, and they had no idea they are in the nation's capital," Powell said. "And later we drive them past the white house and they are like oh yea we saw that, they just really aren't aware of their surroundings at all – they're kids."

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