Trafficking Bill a Step Forward, Advocates Say
Ed Walz (Former Staff)Child Abuse & Neglect Child Rights Housing & Homelessness
Washington – The United States Senate today passed legislation aimed at improving protections and support for victims of human trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178) includes several provisions that would benefit child sexual abuse and trafficking victims:
- Stronger Supports and Increased Collaboration – Authorizes new state-administered supports for trafficking victims, like life skills training, educational and job services, and improved collaboration between law enforcement agencies and service providers;
- Judicial Training – Authorizes training to help judges understand child victims’ needs and the availability of community resources to meet those needs, as well as training to avoid the inappropriate criminal conviction of trafficking victims; and
- Victims Fund – Creates a new fund to provide supportive services to victims, funded by $5,000 penalties against convicted traffickers
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a different trafficking bill, and the chambers must now reconcile differences between their proposals. This legislative effort comes on the heels of the bipartisan Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, passed by Congress last year and enacted by President Obama. That law improves supports for children in foster care, aimed at reducing their vulnerability to trafficking.
But the Senate voted to reject an amendment (Senate Amendment 290) by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) that would have added the bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 262) to the base bill. The bill would have extended federal housing initiatives serving runaway and homeless youth, improved training for adults likely to come into contact with runaway and homeless youth, and it would have required recipients of federal runaway and homeless youth funding to serve all eligible youth, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. The Leahy amendment drew bipartisan support but failed 56-43 under a “unanimous consent” requiring a 60-vote supermajority for passage.
And the unanimous consent agreement reached yesterday, which allowed the bill to advance, did not permit a vote on an amendment (Senate Amendment 271) by Senator Rob Portman that would have added the bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act to the bill. Last year, local public schools reported serving nearly 1.3 million children, but most are ineligible for help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because they do not stay in HUD-funded homeless shelters and don’t meet HUD’s definition of “homeless.” The bipartisan Homeless Children and Youth Act would change HUD’s definition of “homeless” and require HUD to help all homeless children. The bill (S. 256) is sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Companion legislation in the House (H.R. 576) is sponsored by Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Illinois), and Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa).
Responding to the bill’s passage, the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children released the following statement by its president, Bruce Lesley:
“For two years in a row, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to protect some of America’s most vulnerable children. We urge Senate and House negotiators to move quickly to deliver an anti-trafficking bill that protects kids and gives child victims the best chance to rebuild their lives.”
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The First Focus Campaign for Children is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization affiliated with First Focus, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. The Campaign for Children advocates directly for legislative change in Congress to ensure children and families are the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. For more information, visit campaignforchildren.org.