Last week the Senate passed S 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Before passing the bill senators added several amendments including additional requirements under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) along with several other amendments.

The legislation had been caught up in a debate over abortion and the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General. The bill was passed in late February along with S 166 to address parts of human trafficking including sexual exploitation. S 178 sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) provides new funding through the use of the Crime Victims Fund to provide services to victims of all human trafficking (not limited to sex trafficking), it also creates greater law enforcement to prosecute human trafficking.

The Judiciary Committee passed S 178 on February 28 after a hearing. The legislation ran into major road blocks when it was discovered to include language that restricted the use of victim’s funds relating to the issue of abortion. After that there was a dispute between both sides about how the legislative language was inserted and whether the two sides knew what was being done.

The new CAPTA requirements inserted this past week as part of an amendment package would add to state requirements including provisions and procedures requiring identification and assessment of reports involving children known or suspected to be victims of sex trafficking, provisions and procedures for training child protective services workers about identifying, assessing, and providing comprehensive services for children who are sex trafficking victims, including efforts to coordinate with State law enforcement, juvenile justice, and social service agencies.  In light of the weaken funding status of CAPTA state grants (see related article below) and the announcement of the elimination of all CAPTA regulations any impact would likely be the result of a state’s overall approach to human trafficking.

The underlying S 178 would establish the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund with revenue generated by levying criminal fines and penalties against perpetrators of human smuggling, sex trafficking and sexual abuse. The grant could be used for combat trafficking, enhance trafficking victims’ programming, and provide services for victims of child pornography. The legislation also amends the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and replaces a pilot program in the Department of Justice (DOJ) with a program of three-year renewable block grants to develop, improve, or expand domestic child human trafficking deterrence programs that assist law enforcement and other entities in rescuing and restoring the lives of victims, while investigating and prosecuting offenses involving child human trafficking.

The legislation would also provide assistance and increased federal penalties of individuals who patronize or solicit persons for a commercial sex act and attempts to make traffickers and buyers equally culpable for sex trafficking offenses.

The Senate bill must either be adopted by the House or negotiated in a conference