A study by the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the National Institute of Justice, found that nearly 300,000 American children are at risk each year for sex trafficking, and up to 250,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 are involved in commercial sexual exploitation. At least 60 percent of those children are runaways, homeless, or have been kicked out of their homes.
The average age of entry for female prostitutes in the United States is between 12 and 14, and children become prime targets for sexual exploitation by organized crime if they are older than 12, according to a 2001 report.
"This is a human tragedy -- a national tragedy," Speier said today. "We have quite literally taken our eyes off the ball."
Research shows that sex trafficking has risen the most in Michigan, New York and Minnesota in the last six months.
Members of Congress today also hammered law enforcement and Department of Justice officials for not spending more time in fighting this problem.
Law enforcement officials say they will need many more resources than they have currently to fully eradicate the problem.
"We need resources to train and educate law enforcement. We need resources to provide for shelters and get these children off the streets," said Nicholas Sensley, police chief in Truckee, Calif. "And that has to be done outside the justice system, with our non-law enforcement partners."