August 01, 2015

What You Should Know about the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

Andrew Rhoden

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Child trafficking is receiving significant attention in the United States and globally. The Global Freedom Center estimates that at least 26% of the 27 million victims of human trafficking are children under age 18. On May 29, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) of 2015 (P.L. No 114-22).  The Act is effective through September 30, 2019.  

What is the purpose of the JVTA?

The JVTA provides restitution and justice for victims of human trafficking and child pornography by imposing fines and penalties against offenders.  The money paid through fines will be placed into the Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund for grants to enhance programs that assist trafficking victims and provide services for victims of child pornography. The Act also provides law enforcement across the country with resources to establish or enhance task forces against human trafficking, fund prosecution, and create trafficking victim services. Moreover, producers of child pornography are now classified as human traffickers under the Act.  

Which offenses are punishable under the JVTA? 

  • Debt servitude, slavery, and trafficking of people 

  • Sexual abuse

  • Sexual exploitation and other abuse of children 

  • Production of child pornography

  • Transportation for illegal sexual activity and related crimes: Under the JVTA, anyone who knowingly transports an individual with the intent to engage in prostitution or in any criminal sexual activity can be charged with an offense.  Any attempts to do these actions will result in a fine or imprisonment for no more than 10 years or both.  

Why was child pornography included in the JVTA?

Producing and distributing child pornography continues to be a threat to children in the United States, largely due to the international and domestic criminal demand for this illegal material  and the ease of distribution through the internet. As a result, criminal networks have a financial incentive to participate in such activities. 

How much will offenders be fined?

The court will assess a fine of $5,000 on any person or entity convicted of a trafficking offense.  The fine is in addition to any restitution ordered by the court and any compensation owed to the victim resulting from the criminal conviction, which will be based on a special assessment by the court.  The fine must be paid once the offender has satisfied all outstanding court-ordered fines, restitution, and any other compensation owed to victims. 

How will the funds help deter child trafficking?  

Anti-Trafficking Law Enforcement Units: Funding will help create or enhance anti-trafficking law enforcement units throughout the country to investigate child trafficking offenses and identify and provide services to victims.

Witness Protection: Witnesses in child trafficking cases will be placed into programs that ensure safety, assistance, and relocation to promote cooperation with law enforcement investigations.

Locating Homeless and Runaway Youth: Funding will help defray law enforcement expenses, such as salaries and associated costs to locate homeless and runaway youth.

Treatment Programs: Funds will support treatment programs for identified victims of child trafficking such as:

  • Life Skills Training 
  • Outpatient Treatment
  • Education 
  • Family Support Services
  • Housing Placement
  • Vocational Training

How will the JVTA ensure a better response for victims of child sex trafficking?

Each state must certify that its child protection agency has in place a state plan to:  

  • Identify and report children known or suspected to be victims of sex trafficking;

  • Establish training for child protection workers to identify, assess, and provide comprehensive services for victims of child trafficking;

  • Identify child victims of sex trafficking as victims of child abuse and neglect, or sexual abuse. 

In this way, the JVTA promotes the treatment of children who have been trafficked as victims rather than offenders and encourages states to approach the issue of child sex trafficking differently.

Who is eligible for a grant under the JVTA? 

An “eligible entity” is a state or local government agency that meets the following criteria: 

  • Has significant criminal activity involving child trafficking;

  • Demonstrates cooperation with other law enforcement agencies; 

  • Has a plan to combat child trafficking; and 

  • Will not require a victim of child trafficking to collaborate with law enforcement to have access to services or shelter provided under the Act. 

What is the grant application process?

An eligible entity must apply to the U.S. Attorney General to be considered for the grants. Applications must include the following: 

  • Activities for which assistance is sought;

  • A detailed plan using funds awarded under the grant;

  • Any additional information the attorney general deems necessary to ensure compliance; and

  • Disclosure of any other grant funding from the Department of Justice or from any other federal department or agency.

Andrew Rhoden is a law student at American University Washington College of Law. He is a legal intern for the ABA Center on Children and the Law, Lt. Governor of Diversity for the ABA Law Student Division’s 5th Circuit, and a liaison for the ABA Individual Rights and Responsibilities section.