WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives has passed sweeping legislation that would do more to combat sex trafficking in the nation and help its victims.

Sex trafficking has become a growing issue in North Dakota, especially in the Bakken, as the oil industry has brought in more of a market for prostitution.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which originated in the Senate and was approved April 22, covers a wide range of actions addressing human trafficking.

The bill approved Monday authorizes prosecution of those who patronize or solicit trafficking victims as sex traffickers, expands the Justice Department's authority to intercept communications related to trafficking, clarifies that child pornography producers are human traffickers, increases law enforcement training and boosts federal reporting on sex trafficking statistics.

It would establish a new Child Exploitation Investigations Unit, a Cyber Crimes Center and a Computer Forensics Unit within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to investigate child exploitation initiatives.

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Also included in the changes are a $5,000 fine for convicted sex traffickers, an amount that would be deposited in a new Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund to award as grants to trafficking victim programs and increases education and outreach to trafficking survivors.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., was part of the bipartisan effort to pass the bill.

"Today's vote shows the continued strong bipartisan commitment in the House to ending the practice of human trafficking," Cramer said in a statement. "I urge the president to sign this bill into law immediately before thousands more young girls and boys are lost to the flourishing sex slave trade."

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a co-author of the bill and a strong advocate for cracking down on sex trafficking, helped lead a more than two-year effort to combat human trafficking. She has worked closely with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on the legislation.

"Human trafficking is one of the most insidious crimes that has proliferated across this country-especially in North Dakota where an influx of new workers and high-paying jobs has unfortunately also attracted criminals," Heitkamp said in a statement.

The senator added that she hopes the bill reaches the president's desk as soon a possible, and added that "our work isn't done."

"We still must now pass legislation to protect our country's most vulnerable--runaway and homeless youth-so they don't fall prey to these crimes," Heitkamp stated.