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August 01, 2012

Senate committee focuses on human trafficking

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee focused a July 17 hearing on “The Next Ten Years in the Fight Against Human Trafficking: Attacking the Problem with the Right Tools” to discuss ways to combat what committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) called “modern slavery.”

At the hearing, Kerry emphasized the necessity of passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, S. 1301, to “tackle this obviously horrific and unfortunate widespread challenge.”

Kerry’s interest, he said, is on “the underlying causes of human trafficking, including the economic factors that render men, women, and children vulnerable to exploitation” because “slavery whether in the United States or abroad must be recognized, rejected, and eliminated.”

S. 1301, introduced in June 2011 by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and reported out of Leahy’s committee in October 2011, would reauthorize and expand programs enacted into law by the original Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations in 2005 and 2008. Similar House bills, H.R. 2830 and H.R. 3589, were introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.).

Jada Pinkett Smith, an actress and anti-trafficking advocate, spoke at the hearing of the 40,000 people enslaved on American soil at any moment. Noting that the United States has been “a leader in the fight against human trafficking for more than a decade,” she emphasized the importance of reauthorizing the TVPA, which expired last year, and ensuring that anti-trafficking programs receive adequate funding.

Another witness at the hearing, David Abramowitz, vice president of policy and governmental affairs for Humanity United, described trafficking as “one of the most pressing human rights challenges of our time.” He explained some of the target areas his organization is working on to advance “human freedom,” including funding for those who combat trafficking and engaging multinational corporations.

Everyone at the hearing agreed with Abramowitz that “each victim of trafficking and modern day slavery deserves to become a survivor.”

The ABA strongly supports reauthorization of the TVPA, and ABA President Laurel G. Bellows has made human trafficking one of her top presidential priorities for the coming year (see article, page 5).

The association, which adopted policy in 2007 supporting anti-trafficking legislation, approved additional policy on the issue at the August 2011 Annual Meeting that focuses on trafficked children within the United States who are often treated as criminals rather than victims. The policy urges state, local and tribal legislatures to aid minors who are victims of human trafficking in several ways, including permitting their immediate protective custody as dependent children and, except in extreme and compelling circumstances, not charging children under the age of 18 with certain crimes or status offenses that are incident to their trafficking situation.

The policy also urges Congress to enact legislation that enhances state, tribal, territorial and local efforts to combat trafficking of minor children through supporting legal services to victims, shelter and rehabilitative care, and prosecution of adults who are trafficking in minor children. The policy states that federal legislation also should help assure that all noncitizen children who have been exploited for labor, services or commercial sex acts are properly identified as “victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons” as specified in federal law.

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