August 7, 2015

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

by Stephen Weiss

On May 29, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (“the Act”).[1]  The Act – which mobilizes personnel from the DOJ, HHS, and DHS – creates recovery funds for trafficking victims, imposes harsher penalties for trafficking-related offenses, expands resources to better support trafficking victims’ recoveries, and establishes enforcement initiatives to better enable federal and state authorities to convict trafficking criminals.[2]

The Act – championed by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Richard Burr (R-NC), Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-NC), and Congressmen Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Mark Walker (R-NC) – includes the following provisions:

1. Assesses a $5,000 fine on “any non-indigent person or entity” convicted of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, or “transportation for illegal sexual activity,” for purposes of creating a Domestic Trafficking Victims Fund to be used for law enforcement resources and victims’ services efforts;

2. Amends the federal criminal code to impose a fine and/or prison term of up to ten years on anyone who knowingly transports – or attempts to transport – any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, with the intent that the transported individual engage in criminal sexual activity;

3. Expands the definition of “child abuse” under the Victims of Abuse Act of 1990 to account for human trafficking and child pornography;

4. Makes it a “federal crime to knowingly advertise for the commercial sex exploitation of minors and trafficking victims;

5. Creates the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which provides advice and recommendations to the Senior Policy Operating Group established under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking;

6. Amends the Runway and Homeless Youth Act to award grants to youth who were subject to forms of human or sex trafficking;

7. Implements – under the DOJ – a National Strategy for Combating Human Trafficking, which combines the resources of federal, state, and local authorities to combat trafficking;

8. Funds a grant or contract to a medical school – with experience studying or treating trafficking victims – to develop best practices for health care professionals when responding to and caring for trafficking victims; and

9. Requires HHS to post on its website the best practices identified by the medical institution that develops best practices for caring for trafficking victims.[3]

Furthermore, the Act funds the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Corps and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Cyber Crimes Center.  Under ICE’s guidance, the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Corps recruits former service members to support law enforcement in their battle against child exploitation.  The Cyber Crimes Center is a critical player “in supporting cyber investigations related to child exploitation, online financial fraud, and identity theft.”[4]

The Act provides much needed support, resources, and guidance for trafficking victims and law enforcement.  The Act – which recognizes that human traffickers should be considered violent criminals – states that “‘human trafficking is not theoretical and it’s not just overseas; it’s here in our backyard.’”[5]  Seeking to uncover the dark shadows in which trafficking criminals operate, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act highlights the federal government’s coordinated effort to put the human trafficking industry out of business.

 

[1] Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, Pub.L. 114-22.

[2] Taryn Offenbacher, Congress Passes Landmark Bill: Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, Shared Hoped Int’l (May 19, 2015).

[3] Elizabeth N. Brown, Here’s What the Senate’s Massive Sex-Trafficking Bill Would Actually Do, Reason.com (Mar. 10, 2015, 4:35 PM); Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act Signed, Child Welfare League of Am. (June 8, 2015); Seth Thomas, Update on 2015 Legislative Efforts Related to Human Trafficking, Ascent 121 (last visited July 30, 2015).

[5] Travis Fain, Trafficking Crack Downs Aided by New Laws, Daily Press (last visited June 16, 2015).