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October 05, 2017

Reauthorizing Critical Anti-Trafficking Legislation

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Trafficking Victims Protection (TVPA) Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S.1862), aimed at strengthening U.S. global leadership in the fight to combat modern slavery. Introduced by Senators Corker (R-TN), Cardin (D-MD), Rubio (R-FL), and Menendez (D-NJ), this bill authorizes critical U.S. programs to combat trafficking internationally for the next six years.

A key component of this legislation ensures continued U.S. leadership through the State Department Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) report. This annual report determines if countries across the globe are meeting minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, as defined by the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000. The report encourages countries to improve their efforts to combat trafficking through a public accountability ranking system.

However, when politics interfere, some countries’ rankings are inflated without justification, and the credibility of the entire report suffers. This occurred after the 2016 TIP report was published, when claims that Malaysia had received a higher ranking during Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in 2015 left many questioning the impact of outside influences on the ranking system.

In order to maintain the integrity of the TIP report, the reauthorization bill ensures that only concrete actions taken by governments can be considered for reporting. Commitments and promises of future programs will no longer be taken into account. When a country ranking changes, the TIP office will provide a detailed explanation of that change to Congress. The hope is that bringing increased transparency into country rankings will restore faith in the TIP report as a tool that exemplifies the international community’s efforts—separately and jointly—to combat and prevent human trafficking.

The TVPA is the landmark piece of federal human trafficking legislation that includes stringent protections to combat trafficking both at home and abroad. The most recent reauthorization of TVPA passed in 2013 as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act. It expired in September. This year, Senator Corker’s internationally focused anti-trafficking legislation joins four other pieces of legislation set to update and reauthorize provisions from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. These four additional bills focus primarily on establishing domestic infrastructure to combat human trafficking. Two have already passed through the Senate, and one through the House.

Both the House and Senate versions of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 (S. 1311/ H.R. 2803) include a critical provision to establish Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators in all U.S. Attorney’s offices across the country. Currently, many prosecutors don’t have the time and resources to tackle the growing number of trafficking cases. Perpetrators, therefore, face very little risk of being caught or convicted. A designated prosecutor would build a collaborative effort between federal, state, and local law enforcement and victim service providers to effectively investigate and prosecute complex trafficking cases.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2200) enacts a similar provision and calls for increased transparency into enforcement of the Tariff Act ban on imports made with forced labor. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017 (S.1312), introduced by Senators Grassley and Feinstein in June, reauthorizes critical anti-trafficking programs at the Departments of Justice and Labor.

The provisions in these five bills reauthorize and improve the cornerstone of anti-trafficking legislation for several years to come. To end modern slavery, the United States must remain a leader in implementing policies and practices to fight human trafficking and serve as an example for the international community.

Protecting the integrity of the TIP report is key in our efforts to push other nations to do better. Designating human trafficking prosecutors in every judicial district shows the rest of the world our commitment to holding traffickers accountable. Encouraging training and greater resources for law enforcement and better services for survivors have the power to influence greater standards across the globe.

The influence the United States has makes each of these provisions a vital example to the world. We urge Congress to pass these bills to continue American leadership in fighting the global scourge of human trafficking.