A new bill to “ramp up efforts” against human trafficking is working its way through the US House of Representatives, with the aim to have it made law by President Joe Biden.
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 was central to a hearing held by the US Foreign Affairs Committee on October 27, highlighting recommendations for how Congress can help combat human trafficking around the world and at home.
Hope for Justice provided recommendations and expert insight which were included in the draft bill, currently working its way through the House.
At the recent hearing, co-sponsors of the bill Reps Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) and Karen Bass (D-California), committed to do their utmost to “get this bill on President Biden’s desk” to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Rep Smith said: “The bill ramps up protection and prevention efforts against trafficking, particularly for children – a population that has experienced increased victimisation because of the pandemic and the isolation, where the predators are online, grooming them for exploitation.”
The legislation reauthorizes the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which was signed 21 years ago on October 28, to protect victims of human trafficking, and to hold traffickers and any other parties complicit with the crime to account.
The new Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on September 3, coinciding with the 183rd anniversary of abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ escape from slavery. Douglass, who the bill is named after, was at the forefront of the original movement to abolish slavery and then to ending the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and racism.
Some of his direct descendants, who founded a national education and public policy organization in his name, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, are helping to write the bill. They are one of 22 organizations and coalitions, including Hope for Justice, who have already endorsed the bill.
Among those is Shared Hope International, who said they “support this bill because it is trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and proactive.”
Anti-child trafficking organization ECPAT-USA has also backed the bill. Nina DeJonghe, Director of Public Policy, said: “This legislation would expand supportive programs for human trafficking victims across the country, allowing for greater access to urgently needed services they rightfully deserve.”
Another supporter is the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women whose Executive Director Taina Bien-Aime said: “The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 is a testament to bipartisan recognition that prevention of trafficking in persons is both key and possible.” The Coalition also tweeted: “Thank you Rep Bass and Rep Smith for extraordinary bi-partisan leadership in ensuring that TIP will one day become a crime of the past.”
There are 14 co-sponsors of the bill, with strong support from both political parties. In an effort to generate further widespread support, the bill has been assigned to nine committees.
A panel of expert witnesses informed last week’s hearing on challenges facing anti-trafficking efforts, and how traffickers are using the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit the vulnerable.
At the hearing, Rep Bass raised her concerns about the “tremendous backsliding” in the US in efforts to combat human trafficking in recent years and challenged whether it deserved the Tier 1 status, awarded by the US State Department and published in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, for its efforts to tackle the issue.
Rep Bass said: “When I read the TIP Report, I know we grade ourselves at Tier 1 but with major limitations. This report indicates a tremendous backsliding in the United States on multiple accounts. One, in terms of the situation at our border, and people who are clearly trafficked for sexual exploitation or forced labour, who were reported or not even given an opportunity to make their case. Two, the cases here in the US of domestic trafficking and labour trafficking. I appreciate the report documents that backsliding, but I think it should also raise questions about the strength of Tier 1 and does our current Tier 1 ranking comply with the statutory provision of the TVPA Tier 1 status?”
Introduced by Rep Smith, this bipartisan legislation would provide $1.6billion over five years to reauthorize anti-trafficking programs, increase support for survivors and enhance the prosecution of criminals.
Follow the bill’s progress here.
Please, write or call your own Representative and ask them to consider becoming a co-sponsor of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 5150)