One year after passage, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act has already helped the Department of Justice (DOJ) crack down on trafficking in certain cases, but further progress is needed to help victims of this horrific crime
In a letter to Attorney General Lynch, Klobuchar and Cornyn request an update on DOJ’s continuing efforts to combat human trafficking and implement the new law
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to strengthen its efforts to implement their bipartisan trafficking legislation that was signed into law last year. One year after passage, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act has already helped DOJ crack down on trafficking in certain cases, but further progress is needed to help victims of this horrific crime. In a letter to Attorney General Lynch, Klobuchar and Cornyn requested an update on DOJ’s continuing efforts to combat human trafficking and implement the new law.
“May 29, 2016, marked one year since the passage of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which we led in the Senate. Accordingly, we would like to hear from you on the Department of Justice's continuing efforts to combat human trafficking and implement the new law,” the lawmakers wrote. “We understand that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act has already helped the Department of Justice to crack down on trafficking in certain cases. Although each of the prosecutions since the law's passage represents a worthy effort to bring about greater restitution and justice for victims, we undoubtedly have much progress to make.”
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is helping law enforcement further crack down on human traffickers in communities across the country while bringing about greater restitution and justice for victims.
Klobuchar is a national leader in the fight to combat sex trafficking. Her bipartisan legislation modeled after Minnesota’s “Safe Harbor” law 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.
The full text of the lawmakers’ letter to Attorney General Lynch is below:
Dear Attorney General Lynch:
May 29, 2016, marked one year since the passage of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (P.L. 114-22), which we led in the Senate. Accordingly, we would like to hear from you on the Department of Justice's continuing efforts to combat human trafficking and implement the new law.
We understand that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act has already helped the Department of Justice to crack down on trafficking in certain cases. Among these are the safe rescue of a missing Tennessee child as a result of the new authority for the U.S. Marshals to assist state and local law enforcement, a guilty plea in a trafficking case on the southern border, and a number of indictments for trafficking and crimes against minors. Although each of the prosecutions since the law's passage represents a worthy effort to bring about greater restitution and justice for victims, we undoubtedly have much progress to make. In addition, many of the provisions in the legislation to help survivors have not reached their desired impact, as grants that the law authorized have not yet been awarded.
We must do more to fight trafficking and get survivors the support they need. Just last month, a man convicted of victimizing seven women in Minnesota was sentenced to 58 years in prison—the longest prison term for sex trafficking in the state's history. And earlier this year in Houston, the head of a brothel was sentenced to life in federal prison for her role as the leader of an international sex trafficking ring that forced women and girls into prostitution. At least 40 people have been prosecuted in connection with the case, and it is estimated that over 64,000 men entered the brothel within 19 months. To prevent more heinous cases like these and help those who fall victim to this horrific crime get their lives back on track, we must ensure that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is implemented swiftly.
First, it is critical to provide guidance to field offices on the fact that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act made certain important additions to both the definition of sex trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (22 USC 7102) and the criminal offense of sex trafficking (18 USC 1591) that clarify the scope of actions constituting actions of sex trafficking, namely patronizing and soliciting commercial sex acts with victims of sex trafficking, and the advertisement of commercial sex services. We are aware that certain training on the application of the clarified criminal statute has been provided at the National Advocacy Center to several hundred federal prosecutors, but many more still need this training. In addition. Department-wide directives are needed to advise prosecutors and other relevant officials as to these important updates in the law.
For example, earlier this year, Jared Fogle, the former Subway spokesman, was accused of purchasing numerous acts of sex with minors. He was even caught by law enforcement saying "the younger the girl, the better" in his pursuit of sexual exploitation. However, Indiana prosecutors failed to charge Fogle with child sex trafficking under 18 USC 1591. Information and guidance to the field on the charging of 18 USC 1591 are urgent.
Similarly, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act requires that all federal anti-trafficking task forces throughout the country work with state and local law enforcement to increase their investigative capability to pursue child sex buyers. Each year, the FBI, through its Innocence Lost Initiative, conducts a nationwide child sex raid known as Operation Cross Country. Each year, the FBI rescues over one hundred child sex trafficking victims and arrests hundreds of pimps. However, the FBI does not systematically arrest or record data on the arrests of sex buyers encountered as a result of these stings, leaving the majority of buyer investigations to local law enforcement. One of the critical elements of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was to make a targeted strike against child sex trafficking by ending the demand for underage sex that drives this illegal market. Therefore, we request to know what guidance, if any, is planned to ensure that the FBI works with state and local law enforcement to prioritize the apprehension and prosecution of child sex buyers encountered during Operation Cross Country stings as federal sex trafficking offenders.
One provision of the law that we are particularly interested in receiving an update on is the Department of Justice's development of the National Strategy for Combating Human Trafficking, which, when implemented, will facilitate the prosecution of traffickers. The National Strategy, which was included in our Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (Title VI, P.L. 114-22), will help set clear goals, focus resources, and encourage data sharing among law enforcement agencies, including by mandating the establishment of district-specific strategic plans by each U.S. Attorney in consultation with state, local, and tribal government agencies. Specifically, we would like to know what steps the Department has taken to develop the National Strategy so far and when the Department expects to have this guidance in place.
In addition, we would like to understand the expected timeline for requests for proposals regarding the more than $5 million currently in the Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund. As you know, one of the reasons for the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was to provide supplemental funding to domestic trafficking victims—a historically underserved population. This funding would help provide domestic victims and particularly children vital services and protections.
We are pleased to see additional efforts from DOJ to fight trafficking, including launching Phase II of the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) in coordination with the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor. We are eager to see how that effort improves outcomes for the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes over the coming months.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to continuing to work together to address this critical issue.