Legislation is modeled after Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor” laws that help make sure minors sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants but are instead treated as victims

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Cornyn (R-TX), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), today introduced a comprehensive bipartisan bill to crack down on sex trafficking. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (SETT) will give prosecutors the tools they need to tackle domestic minor sex trafficking and help make sure victims of these horrific crimes receive the support they need. The bill is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but rather are treated as victims.

“As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to have policies in place that help victims break free from abuse,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “In Minnesota, we’ve already recognized that kids sold for sex need to be supported, not locked up in jail. This bill will help tackle sex trafficking head-on, using Minnesota’s ‘safe harbor’ laws as a model for the country while also improving coordination and focusing resources so that law enforcement can more effectively investigate and prosecute sex trafficking.”

"I am proud to join in introducing legislation that will build upon the important steps we’ve taken to protect victims of trafficking and crack down on the criminals that perpetrate these heinous crimes,”
said Sen. Cornyn.  “Sadly, a number of cities in Texas have become hubs for human trafficking, and this bill will greatly assist law enforcement officials as they target and lock up predators, while also ensuring that victims receive the support they deserve."

“As the former Attorney General of North Dakota, I understand the need to provide increased protection to victims of human trafficking so they see a way out of their situation, and a path forward for a better life,” said Sen. Heitkamp.  “And just a few months ago, I held a hearing to bring about a larger discussion on human trafficking as there is such little data or reporting on the issue.  That needs to change – as it happens all too often in our own backyard.  This bill aims to continue to point a light on this issue by providing victims the means to find ways out of their horrible situations without penalizing them for conditions they have no control over.  It is my hope that this bill will provide some initial tools that will allow prosecutors to help victims, and stop sex trafficking across the country and on Indian reservations.  No longer can we turn a blind eye to this issue, and I will keep fighting to put an end to human trafficking of any kind.”

"For many years Illinois has been a hub for sex trafficking," Sen. Mark Kirk said. "Because of our state's central geographic location, traffickers use Illinois transportation infrastructure, including O'Hare International Airport, to bring young women into Illinois and transport them to other cities and states.  This legislation requires the U.S. Attorney General to develop a national strategy to protect young women and girls who are under the control of pimps and sex traffickers."

There are more than 27 million people around the world victimized by trafficking each year. In Minnesota, recent reports indicate that on any given night dozens of underage girls are sold for sex online. The average age of a child when she first becomes a victim is just 13 years old.

The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (SETT):

  • Includes a provision modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws. The provision requires all states have a safe harbor provision to help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but are instead treated as victims. When a state passes a safe harbor law, it means that kids sold for sex should be steered towards child protection services, rather than being arrested, charged, or convicted under a state’s criminal laws. Current federal law only suggests a model state statute – this bill will require that states have a safe harbor as a condition for receiving federal grants.
  • Creates a National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking. The National Strategy will help coordinate efforts to investigate and prevent human trafficking between federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. This will help set clear goals and focus resources to help combat human trafficking. The bill will also encourage better data sharing between different law enforcement agencies.
  • Allows victims of sex trafficking to participate in the Job Corps program to help them get back on their feet. Our Job Corps programs already help teen moms, runaways, and kids who drop out of school. This bill makes clear that victims of sex trafficking should be eligible for our current job training and skills building programs to help empower sex trafficking victims so that they have the tools they need to find a way out of the cycle.
  • Helps victims pursue financial restitution and recover damages. In some parts of the law, victims of federal crimes can recover triple damages from people who harm them. Under this new bill, when sex trafficking victims sue their perpetrators, they’ll be able to get the damages they are due from the people who harmed them. The bill will also encourage better tracking of financial restitution orders so that victims can actually collect on the restitution they are due.
  • Strengthens requirements for convicted sex trafficking offenders to be listed higher on the National Sex Offender Registry so they are reported and tracked closely to ensure they can’t victimize anyone else. Convicted offenders are classified into different Tiers, based on the severity of their crimes. The different Tier numbers correspond to how frequently a sex offender is required to report relevant personal information and make in-person appearances before law enforcement. Most sex trafficking offenders are currently convicted as Tier II criminals. The bill would reclassify those convicted of state or federal sex trafficking crimes into the more stringent Tier III. This means they must register for life and appear in person every 3 months to have a picture taken and verify registry information.
  • Strengthens the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Right now, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline helps connect victims with services they need and passes on crime tips to law enforcement. This bill would make sure that the hotline is backed by the force of law. Although the Hotline operates with some federal authorization, this bill puts the National Human Trafficking Hotline on par with other national hotlines designed to serve victims.

Senators Klobuchar and Cornyn have also worked together on previous legislation to fight sex trafficking. The End Sex Trafficking Act, introduced by Senator Cornyn, would help eliminate human trafficking rings by targeting the criminals who purchase sexual acts from these organizations and ensuring that they are prosecuted as human traffickers.