Although it appears that the issue of human trafficking has just recently been brought to the forefront, the problem is not a new one. In fact, the federal government enacted the first comprehensive law to address human trafficking 17 years ago, with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. The law touts a three-pronged approach to combat human trafficking, which the US Department of State calls the 3P Paradigm: prosecution (ensuring governments impose adequately severe sentences), protection(identifying victims and making their needs a priority), and prevention (including labor laws that protect vulnerable classes of workers). The TVPA has been reauthorized several times, through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2013.
Other laws have been passed in recent years to increase support for the victims of human trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) of 2015 improved the federal government’s response to human trafficking, strengthening both services for victims and consequences for perpetrators. Its passage allowed for the establishment of a fund to support a variety of initiatives, including victim assistance programs, block grants to deter child trafficking and training requirements for first responders. It also amended two important acts (the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) to better protect children who are victims of human trafficking.
One year earlier, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 was passed to address the critical problem of sex trafficking among youth in the foster care system. The passage of this law required child welfare systems to screen and identify youth who are victims of or at risk for sex trafficking, provide them with appropriate services, develop protocols to locate missing or runaway children and determine circumstances they may have faced while missing from care.
Legislation Under Consideration
The topic of human trafficking continues to hold the attention of members of the current Congress, who have quietly taken more steps to address the trafficking crisis facing our country today. In the few short months since the 115thCongress has taken office, lawmakers have introduced dozens of bills intended to combat the urgent problem of human trafficking. These bills will still need to move through the legislative process in order to be enacted into law, and many will not receive final approval. However, their introduction continues to bring much-needed attention to the crisis of human trafficking.
Several bills introduced this year which have the potential for more widespread impact on domestic human trafficking include:
- HR 436: Human Trafficking Prioritization Act– The bill amends the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to change the “Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking of the Department of State” to the “Bureau to Combat Trafficking in Persons.” The bill includes an elevation in personnel from the current Ambassador-at-Large position to an Assistant Secretary, allowing more direct contact with the Secretary of State.
- HR 1035/ S 30: Extending Justice for Sex Crimes Victims Act of 2017– The bill extends the statutes of limitations for victims of human trafficking or a sex crime to file a civil action.
- HR 767/ S 256: SOAR to Health and Wellness Act of 2017– The bill directs the US Department of Health & Human Services to establish a pilot program, called “Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to Health and Wellness Training.” The program will be designed to train health care providers to identify potential human trafficking victims; coordinate their individualized care and refer them to social services; and facilitate communication with law enforcement.
- HR 459/ S 104: Trafficking Survivors Relief Act of 2017 – The bill allows individuals convicted of or arrested for offenses (not including crimes of violence or offenses with child victims) to move the court to overturn convictions and/or expunge arrest records if their conviction or arrest was a direct result of the accused individual having been a victim of human trafficking.
- HR 440: Shame Act of 2017– The bill allows courts to order the Department of Justice to publish the names and photographs of individuals convicted of child sex trafficking activities.
- HR 53: CATCH Traffickers Act of 2017 – The bill directs the Department of Homeland Security to establish and maintain a national database for human trafficking investigations, to be utilized by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
- HR 889: Human Trafficking Fraud Enforcement Act of 2017 – The bill directs the establishment of an office within the IRS to investigate and prosecute tax law violations by individuals who are under investigation for activities related to human trafficking and the promotion of commercial sexual acts. It increases penalties for tax evasion attributable to activities related to human trafficking and adds the amount of these penalties to the Crime Victims Funds, which provide for victim assistance grants for crisis intervention, emergency shelter, transportation, counseling and criminal justice advocacy.
The cache of bills has been introduced by Democrats and Republicans, members of both the House and Senate and through multiple committees in each chamber. Some focus on the victims of human trafficking; others focus on the perpetrators. Despite the differences, they all have important factors in common: They acknowledge the abhorrence of human trafficking, and attempt to allow victims to begin to gain freedom from their pain.