In the 2017 Trafficking in Persons report, U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson wrote, “Human trafficking is one of the most tragic human rights issues of our time. It splinters families, distorts global markets, undermines the rule of law, and spurs other transnational criminal activity.
It threatens public safety and national security. But worst of all, the crime robs human beings of their freedom and their dignity. That's why we must pursue an end to the scourge of human trafficking.”
In its report, the State Department quantified the more than 4,000 potentially human-trafficking related investigations and cases initiated by various federal agencies in Fiscal Year 2016 alone, and the U.S. Department of Justice “secured convictions against 439 traffickers, a significant increase from 297 convictions in FY 2015.” Federal law must reinforce efforts to end this horrible crime.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I co-sponsored two pieces of legislation, under the jurisdiction of the committee, aimed at addressing human trafficking. Both bills renew portions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), last renewed in 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which I worked to extend:
- S. 1312, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and is also co-sponsored by 26 fellow senators. This legislation would reauthorize the TVPA and extend the authorization for expiring grant programs established by the TVPA that are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor. TVPA programs support victims of trafficking and assist with the identification and punishment of perpetrators. S. 1312 would also assist with the better collection of related crime data.
- S. 1311, the Abolish Human Trafficking Act, was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), and 30 of my fellow senators have co-sponsored this legislation that would reauthorize programs established by the TVPA that are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. Additionally, it would establish Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators appointed within each U.S. Attorney’s office to focus on trafficking cases. Each designated prosecutor would have the capacity to investigate and prosecute complex cases that often cross multiple jurisdictions.
Both bills have broad support, including support among my fellow members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee favorably reported both bills that now can advance to consideration by the full Senate. This is a step in the right direction for ensuring that tools are in place to combat human trafficking.
Traffickers often seek out and abuse fellow Americans and others around the world who are struggling to get by, trying to get away from violent conditions at home and looking for help. We must do all that we can to stop this exploitation and ensure victims have access to the help they need. I look forward to advancing legislation that will assist with this effort.