Within the last few weeks the United States Congress has considered a number of bills related to human trafficking. The bills range from increased victim protections, to increased criminal penalties for traffickers, to a billion dollar international initiative. Here are summaries and information on the current status of a few of the bills:
- Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (S. 178), sponsored by John Cornyn (R-TX)
- Content: The bill increases protections and restitutions for victims of human trafficking. It also increases penalties imposed on those found guilty under federal law of engaging in human trafficking or purchasing commercial sex acts from children.
- Status: It was reported by committee and considered by the Senate on March 11, 2015. However, the bill is now caught in a bipartisan battle over a provision of the bill that restricts funding for abortions for trafficking victims. A House version of the bill, H.R. 296, has been referred to committee.
- Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015 (S. 166), sponsored by Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
- Content: The bill encourages states to take on “safe harbor” measures (laws that ensure that minors involved in commercial sex are treated as trafficking victims rather than criminal prostitutes), by using federal law enforcement grants. It also elevates the status of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and opens up the Job Corps program to sex trafficking victims.
- Status: It was reported by committee on February 26, 2015, and next needs to be introduced to and passed by the Senate. A House version of the bill, H.R. 159, already passed the House in January.
- Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 262), sponsored by Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
- Content: The bill reauthorizes the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which supports housing, education, and job training for homeless youth. It also adds a number of changes, including expanding shelter services.
- Status: It is being considered by the Judiciary Committee, but has come under scrutiny based on a nondiscrimination clause which would guarantee that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth would be covered by its protections.
- End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015 (S. 553), sponsored by Bob Corker (R-TN)
- Content: The bill creates a $1.5 billion independent international non-governmental organization that would be backed by public-private funding and support programs to prevent trafficking, prosecute perpetrators and support survivors. The organization will also work towards building best practice models that can be measured and replicated.
- Status: It is currently being considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
While each of these bills is in the Senate, as describe, several have House companion versions. The House has several other bills currently under consideration, including the Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act (H.R. 400), the Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015 (H.R. 460), and the Bringing Missing Children Home Act of 2015 (H.R. 1115).
In a Congress that has been continually held up by partisan rifts, human trafficking represents a bipartisan issue than many politicians can support without fear of negative repercussions. Hopefully bipartisan politics can stay out of the debate so these bills may move forward and continue to improve the national and international U.S. fight against human trafficking.