Human Rights First welcomes today’s introduction of The Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 in the Senate. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Senators Cornyn (R-TX), Grassley (R-IA), Feinstein (D-CA), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Corker (R-TN) reauthorizes critical domestic anti-human trafficking programs from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and strengthens the U.S. government’s approach to combating trafficking by designating a human trafficking prosecutor in every judicial district across the United States. Human Rights First applauds the broad support for this legislation and commends the original cosponsors, Senators Corker (R-TN), Brown (D-OH), Heller (R-NV), Wyden (D-OR), Rubio (R-FL), Coons (D-DE), Hatch (R-UT), and Burr (R-NC) for advancing the fight again human trafficking. The organization calls for speedy passage of the bill so anti-trafficking programs have the resources they need to combat address this problem.
“Without adequate resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases, perpetrators operate with near impunity, exploiting vulnerable people for both labor and sex trafficking across the United States. This bill will significantly increase the ability of the U.S. government and law enforcement to combat this pervasive crime,” said Human Rights First’s Amy Sobel. “We strongly urge Congress to support this critical legislation and ensure its swift passage.”
The TVPA outlines the U.S. government’s response to human trafficking both at home and abroad. Congress has reauthorized the TVPA four times since it was initially passed into law, in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. The current authorizations expire at the end of September.
A provision in the bill would designate a prosecutor in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. These Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators would be responsible for ensuring increased exploration of all potential cases of human trafficking and would improve the ability of these offices to bring traffickers to justice in more complex cases. The designated prosecutors would improve expertise nationwide on how to successfully apply anti-trafficking statutes to gain convictions, as well as cultivate partnerships between government officials at all levels and service providers that are key to rooting out and prosecuting cases of trafficking. These prosecutors would additionally be responsible for collecting restitution for victims, who rarely receive what they are owed.
Human Rights First notes that holding traffickers accountable can be challenging as trafficking cases can be difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute, and therefore only a small fraction of reported cases are prosecuted. In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 24,757 reports, yet only 297 convictions were secured in the United States. More complex cases—such as those involving labor trafficking—are especially difficult to identify and can necessitate more interagency coordination requiring additional time and resources. Labor trafficking cases represented only two percent of human trafficking convictions in the United States in 2015, while service providers reported that 48 percent of their clients were trafficked for labor.
“We know that collaboration across all levels of government can exponentially increase accountability for traffickers,” said Sobel. “In districts where there is interagency coordination between representatives from the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor, the number of human trafficking cases filed has increased 119 percent. Adding designated prosecutors will foster such collaboration, as well as ensure that best practices for identification, investigation, prosecution, and treatment of victims are utilized around the country.”
Other critical provisions in The Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 include strengthening efforts to investigate and prosecute those who knowingly financially benefit from human trafficking, such as hotels that are complicit in human trafficking operations, adding additional reporting requirements to the attorney general’s annual report to Congress, and establishing on a permanent basis the U.S. Survivor Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.
Published on Human Rights First on June 7, 2017.