The Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 Would Reenergize the Fight Against Modern Slavery

Senators Cornyn (R-TX) and Klobuchar (D-MN), along with Senators Grassley (R-IA), Feinstein (D-CA), introduced the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017. This bill updates and reauthorizes the most monumental piece of federal human trafficking legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Originally enacted in 2000, the TVPA identified human trafficking as a federal crime, implementing stringent protections for trafficking victims and establishing U.S. government programs to combat it both domestically and across the globe. The bill has been reauthorized four times, most recently passing as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. The current authorizations are set to expire in September 2017.

The Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 updates provisions in the TVPA and goes further, including a critical provision that establishes Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators to increase prosecutions for perpetrators of human trafficking. These Justice Coordinators would be appointed within each U.S. Attorney’s office to focus on trafficking cases.

Last year there were only 6,609 trafficking convictions globally, with only 297 of those in the United States. Given that there are an estimated 21 million victims of slavery worldwide, that is a pitiful statistic.

In the United States, the small number of convictions results partially from the complexity of human trafficking cases and a lack of the governmental collaboration that is needed to tackle them. Currently, many prosecutors simply don’t have the time and resources to take on complicated trafficking cases. With labor trafficking cases specifically, there are obstacles to identification because the crime can hide in legitimate businesses.

Under the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, each designated prosecutor would have the capacity to build the necessary collaboration to effectively investigate and prosecute complex cases that often cross multiple jurisdictions. A coordinator would have the resources to call on federal, state and local agencies, all levels of law enforcement, and victim service providers to help identify and undertake these more complex cases, leading to more prosecutions for all types of trafficking crimes. This balanced network would ensure that the best practices of a victim centered approach were utilized while working to bring perpetrators to justice. In districts where collaboration exists between the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, and Justice, this type of coordination has been proven to enhance efforts to identify and prosecute cases.

Trafficking legislation has been instrumental in establishing infrastructure to combat this crime both domestically and overseas. Under the TVPRA, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the Department of State was established. This office compiles the annual Trafficking in Persons report, which evaluates the efforts of foreign governments in the fight against trafficking. The TVPRA also tasked the Department of Labor with compiling and publishing a list of products produced with forced and child labor to raise government and public awareness. However, even with these successes, the United States has more work to do in the fight against modern slavery. Adopting the updated Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 and appointing Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators would further the U.S. government’s efforts to combat trafficking in communities across the United States.

The Abolish Human Trafficking Act would be a cornerstone of anti-trafficking legislation in the United States. From provisions helping to prosecute traffickers to methods of preventing trafficking and protecting victims and survivors, it holds the potential to reenergize the fight against modern slavery. We must remain focused on efforts to combat trafficking in our states, counties, and cities.

By Meggie Weiler

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