Should the Federal Gov’t Study Human Trafficking? (H.R. 507)
Do you support or oppose this bill?
What is H.R. 507?
(Updated April 3, 2020)
This bill would direct the Attorney General to study a range of issues related to human trafficking. It’d also express the sense of Congress that human trafficking is a serious problem deserving of both federal funds to address the problem and states’ attention to the issue.
This bill would express the sense of Congress that some funds available for training and technical assistance under section 107(b) of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 should be devoted to:
Increasing the personal safety of victim service providers, who may face intimidation or retaliation for their activities;
Promoting a trauma-informed, evidence-based, and victim-centered approach to the provision of services for victims of trafficking;
Ensuring that law enforcement officers and prosecutors make every attempt to determine whether an individual is a victim of human trafficking before arresting the individual for, or charging the individual with, an offense that is a direct result of the victimization of the individual;
Effectively prosecuting traffickers and individuals who patronize or solicit children for sex, and facilitating access for child victims of commercial sex trafficking to the services and protections afforded to other victims of sexual violence;
Encouraging states to improve efforts to identify and meet the needs of human trafficking victims, including through internet outreach and other methods that are responsive to the needs of victims in their communities; and
Ensuring victims of trafficking, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals, are eligible for services.
This bill would also direct the Attorney General (AG), in consultation with other federal entities engaged in efforts to combat human trafficking, to establish an expert working group to: 1) identify barriers to the collection of data on the incidence of sex and labor trafficking and 2) recommend practices to promote better data collection and analysis. The working group’s membership would consist of survivors of human trafficking, experts on sex and labor trafficking, representatives from organizations collecting data on human trafficking, and law enforcement officers. No later than three years after this bill’s enactment, the AG would be required to implement a pilot program testing methodologies recommended by the working group.
The AG, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security (DHS), the Director of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center, United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, victims of trafficking, human trafficking survivor advocates, service providers for victims of sex and labor trafficking, and the President’s Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, would also be required to submit a report to Congress detailing:
Federal efforts to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking at the national and regional levels;
The effectiveness of current policies and procedures to address the needs of victims of trafficking; and
An analysis of demographic characteristics of victims of trafficking in different regions of the United States and recommendations for how to address the unique vulnerabilities of different victims.
Additionally, the AG would be required to coordinate with federal, state, local, and tribal governments to develop and execute a survey of survivors seeking and receiving victim assistance services. This survey would seek to improve the provision of services to human trafficking victims and victim identification in the U.S. The survey’s results would be publicly available on the DOJ’s website.
The AG, in consultation with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, would also be required to submit a report to Congress detailing efforts to increase restitution to victims of human trafficking.
Finally, this bill would express the sense of Congress that states should adopt protections for victims of trafficking.
Argument in favor
Human trafficking is a serious crime and human rights violation that continues to occur in the U.S. despite efforts to combat it at all levels of law enforcement. A better understanding of how and why this occurs, as well as how best to identify and help victims, is badly needed.
Law enforcement agencies already understand the basic dynamics of human trafficking and would be better able to combat it if they simply had more financial resources to conduct investigations and stings.
Human trafficking; trafficking survivors; victims’ advocates; federal, state, local, and tribal governments; Labor Secretary; HHS Secretary; DHS Secretary; Director of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center; United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking; the AG; and the Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000.
Cost of H.R. 507
The CBO estimated that a similar version of this bill in the 115th Congress would cost about $2 million over the 2018-2020 period for additional DOJ programs.
In-Depth: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to combat human trafficking:
“One of our most urgent priorities should be disrupting the child welfare to trafficking pipeline and finding better and more effective ways to meet the critical needs of this vulnerable population. For far too long victims of human trafficking were left in the shadows. I urge my colleagues to support this important piece of legislation and help bring an end to this insidious practice.”
Writing in the National Law Review when this bill was under consideration in the previous Congress, Caroline Fish, a then-rising 3L at St. John’s University, wrote that this bill would improve protections for foreign nationals brought to the U.S. against their bill as trafficking victims:
“[T]he Put Trafficking Victims First Act of 2017, which calls for the advancement of trafficking victim protection in the U.S., must be passed. This law calls for funding for trainings to ensure, inter alia, that ‘law enforcement officers and prosecutors make every attempt to determine’ whether an individual is not a trafficking victim ‘before arresting them for, or charging them with, an offense.’ It also encourages States to enact protections that allow victims ‘to have convictions and adjudications related to prostitution and nonviolent offenses vacated and such records cleared and expunged if offenses were committed as a direct result of the victim being trafficked’ and to ensure that foreign national victims do not ‘lose any immigration benefit because of such conviction or arrests.’ This law, essentially, would add an extra layer of national commitment to the protection of all trafficking victims, especially foreign nationals.”
The American Bar Association (ABA) has not taken a position on this bill, but it has historically supported policies targeting human trafficking:
“The ABA House of Delegates has adopted numerous policies targeting human trafficking, including a 2011 policy urging state, local, tribal and territorial legislatures to aid minors who are victims of human trafficking. Another policy, adopted in 2013, supports enactment of laws and regulations and development of policies that set standards for treatment of individuals who have been identified as adult or minor victims of human trafficking.”
In the current Congress, this bill has four bipartisan cosponsors, including two Democrats and two Republicans. Last Congress, this bill passed the House by voice vote with the support of one cosponsor, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA).
Of Note: It’s estimated that 200,000 women annually are forced into the sex trade in the U.S. The majority of these women are American — not imported from other countries. On an annual basis, it’s estimated that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. from other countries.
Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states and D.C. They’re made to work or provide commercial sex against their will in both legal, legitimate business settings and underground markets. In the U.S., human trafficking largely serves the following purposes: forced labor, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, sex trafficking, and the child commercial sex trade.
CBO Cost Estimate (115th Congress)
National Human Trafficking Hotline (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / aradaphotography)
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