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February 09, 2015

House of Representatives Passes 12 Anti-Trafficking Bills

By Claire Duguid

Twelve bills aimed at battling human trafficking were recently passed by the House, signaling an upswing in the attention this issue is receiving by the U.S. government. Many of the same bills were proposed in the 113th Congress and passed the House but the Senate failed to act to pass them. Largely focused on the implementation of both new and improved training programs and combatting child sex trafficking, these bills offer exciting new tools to combat human trafficking.

Eight of the twelve bills direct their attention to child sex trafficking, tackling the important issues of victim protection, offender prosecution, and professional training for recognition of, and appropriate responses to, child victims.

Among these are H.R. 159, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015, which encourages states to implement safe harbor laws that protect minors by treating them as victims rather than criminals when they are found in commercial sexual exploitation; H.R. 246, to improve the response to victims of child sex trafficking, requiring the operation of a cyber tipline for internet users and providers to use to report online sexual exploitation; and H.R. 515, International Megan’s Law, which will establish within the Department of Homeland Security the Angel Watch Center to track the travel of child sex offenders and notify the destination country. Others, such as H.R. 357, the Human Trafficking Prevention Act, and H.R. 398, the Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015, call for the expansion of training for federal government workers and health care professionals respectively, for effectively identifying and reporting potential victims of human trafficking.

Influenced by a hugely complex network, human trafficking cannot be disrupted through a unilateral effort. From victim services, to prosecutions, to increasing transparency within business supply chains, anti-trafficking measures must take into account a multi-sector approach to disrupting the business of trafficking. Passing new legislation that encourages partnership with the private sector, public sector and civil society together will go a long way to breaking down trafficking networks, and ultimately putting traffickers out of business by making it too risky for them.

With a multi-sector approach should come an inclusive set of legislation, aimed at tackling the human trafficking in its entirety. Less targeted in this round of bills is the issue of labor trafficking. One new bill recently introduced, H.R. 400, Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act, calls for clearer definitions by the State Department and USAID of recruitment fees. As forced labor is the form of trafficking most prevalent across the globe, in zeroing in on sex trafficking alone, the bills are excluding over half of the world’s trafficking victims and networks from the fight.

The number of champions in congress who are focused on this issue is on the rise. The twelve bills passed by the House this week mark an opportunity to make substantial progress in the global fight against trafficking. While rescuing victims is critical, unless we can reverse the risk-reward question for perpetrators, we will continue to struggle keeping pace with this growing illicit industry. In future, we need to take a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to combat the whole network of trafficking- both labor and sex trafficking, at home and abroad- to begin to put these traffickers out of business.