WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have announced that their bipartisan legislation, the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, has passed the Senate. The legislation strengthens and reauthorizes key programs that support survivors of human trafficking and provide resources to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials on the front lines of the fight against modern-day slavery.
“Last Congress, I worked with Senator Cornyn to get our Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act signed into law. Together we’ve worked to curb trafficking in Minnesota and around the country, but there’s still more to be done,” Klobuchar said. “Today’s vote brings us one step closer to strengthening and reauthorizing critical programs that help support survivors and improve the tools available to federal, state, and local law enforcement.”
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Corker (R-TN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dean Heller (R-NV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Richard Burr (R-NC) are original cosponsors of the legislation.
Klobuchar and Cornyn authored the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, a 2015 law that increased the resources and tools available for combating human trafficking in the United States. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act ensures that American law enforcement is equipped to fight this crime, while helping victims rebuild their lives by using fines and penalties against their exploiters to fund restorative services and compensation. The legislation was modeled after Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor” law, which gives incentives for all states to 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.
Background on the Abolish Human Trafficking Act:
Funding for Victims’ Services and Law Enforcement: The Abolish Human Trafficking Act extends the life of the Department of Justice Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund, which is financed through fines on convicted human traffickers and sexual predators and through an annual allotment from the Community Health Centers Fund and was used to provide nearly $5 million to victims’ services last year. Additionally, the legislation clarifies that federal law enforcement may impose liens on the property of criminals who fail to pay required fines to the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund and allows Child Advocacy Centers to use resources from the Fund to provide services to human trafficking victims. Finally, the legislation reauthorizes key Trafficking Victims Protection Act programs that are used to fund restorative services for victims and law enforcement anti-trafficking operations.
Empowering and Restoring Victims’ Lives: The Abolish Human Trafficking Act permanently authorizes the Human Trafficking Advisory Council, through which human trafficking survivors formulate annual recommendations to combat and prevent this crime to the federal government. The legislation also requires mandatory restitution for victims of commercial sexual exploitation offenses.
Fighting Human Traffickers: The Abolish Human Trafficking Act gives law enforcement additional tools and resources to target criminal street gangs involved in organized human trafficking and sexual exploitation. By enhancing statutory maximum penalties for several human trafficking offenses, the legislation ensures the penalties remain an adequate tool for prosecutors. The bill also expands the authority of state and local governments to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases and establishes Human Trafficking Coordinators at every U.S. Attorney’s Office and at the Department of Justice. In order to help curb foreign offenders and internal human trafficking, the legislation clarifies that persons who travel overseas with a motivating purpose of engaging in illicit sex tourism can be federally prosecuted for their offense.
Increasing Awareness and Prevention: The Abolish Human Trafficking Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop specialized screening protocols for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement anti-trafficking task forces to ensure agencies nationwide are trained to recognize victims and refer them to services instead of arresting or prosecuting them. The bill makes a number of improvements to data collection and reporting so that agencies can better utilize information. The legislation ensures that regular reporting on the number of human trafficking crimes is separated from reports on the particular form of the offense for the use of the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program and requires the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to provide an annual report on the use of data received from the national human trafficking hotline. Lastly, the Abolish Human Trafficking Act requires National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a landmark study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade.
Breaking the Cycle of Sexual Exploitation: The Abolish Human Trafficking Act ends government partnerships with the commercial sex industry and improves the national strategy to combat human trafficking by utilizing demand reduction techniques.
Major Supporting Organizations: More than 50 victims’ rights and law enforcement organizations support the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, including: Shared Hope International, Rights 4 Girls, Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, National District Attorneys Association, National Association to PROTECT Children, and Coalition Against Trafficking Women.
Klobuchar is a national leader in the fight to combat human trafficking. She, Cornyn, Grassley, and Feinstein introduced the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which also recently passed the Senate, to establish and reauthorize critical programs to prevent human trafficking, promote justice for survivors, provide services to victims, and increase federal coordination to enhance the federal government’s response to the crisis of exploitation. In August, the bipartisan Combatting Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles and No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act Klobuchar introduced with Senator John Thune (R-SD) passed the Senate Commerce Committee. The Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act would designate a human trafficking prevention coordinator at the U.S. Department of Transportation and increase outreach, education, and reporting efforts at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act would disqualify individuals from operating a commercial vehicle motor vehicle (CMV) for their lifetime if they used a CMV to commit a felony involving human trafficking.
In January, the U.S. Department of Justice released the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, which Klobuchar called for in the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. The National Strategy helps coordinate efforts to investigate and prevent human trafficking between federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. Last year, she and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Stop Trafficking on Planes (STOP) Act that would require training for certain airline industry employees to recognize and report suspected human trafficking to law enforcement. A provision based on this legislation was signed into law last July as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2016.