Last week, H.R. 507, the Put Trafficking Victims First Act, sponsored by Congressperson Karen Bass (D-CA) passed the House of Representatives by a near unanimous margin.
The legislation addresses a need for expanded victim services, improved data-gathering on the prevalence and trends in human trafficking, and effective mechanisms to identify and work with victims in an effective and respectful manner.
In her floor remarks, Congressperson Bass said,
“Forced labor and human trafficking are among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises. Globally, these inhumane practices generate an estimated $150 billion a year in profit. That’s three times the amount that the top Fortune 500 Company made in 2016. Criminals are profiting from the systematic abuse of vulnerable people around the globe. Sadly, women and girls represent approximately 71% of these victims.”
As she has done in the past Representative Bass focused on the vulnerability of youth in foster care saying,
“As the Founder of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I am very aware of the risk to vulnerable youth. Foster youth, along with runaways and homeless youth are at the highest risk of being sex trafficked. Experts agree that the foster care system is yielding a disproportionate number of human trafficking victims.”
The bill would direct the Attorney General to form a broadly-representative working group to: assess the status of the collection of data on human trafficking, recommend best practices, and conduct a survey of survivors regarding the provision of services for survivors. It also directs the Attorney General to implement a pilot project testing the methodologies identified by the working group and requires an additional report on efforts to increase restitution to victims of human trafficking and to report back to Congress.
The report is to include a description of federal efforts to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking, the effectiveness of current policies addressing victim needs, and analyzing the demographic characteristics of trafficking victims and recommendations on how to address their unique vulnerabilities.
The need for better data and services is important. Although many within the child welfare community have seen the issue as originating from child welfare and foster care, the pool of victims is larger potentially sweeping in youth from a cross-section of populations particularly when forced labor is included in the issue.
H.R. 507 encourages law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to make a determination when an individual has been a victim of human trafficking before charging them with offenses that are a result of their victimization. This is of particular concern to communities of color. According to the FBI, African American children made up 57% of all juvenile prostitution arrest.
A proposal, with the opposition of many groups including CWLA, was never able to pass the last Congress.