House Passes Problematic Human Trafficking Bill

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House Passes Problematic Human Trafficking Bill

Emily Crockett

The much-ballyhooed bipartisan bill has provisions that alarm civil liberties and victims' advocates.

The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) on Tuesday, sending the bill to President Obama’s desk.

The vote was 420-3, with only Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) voting against the bill.

The JVTA cleared the Senate late last month on a 99-0 vote, but that bipartisan consensus only came after a protracted battle over anti-choice language in the bill.

A compromise in the Senate kept Republicans from expanding the Hyde Amendment’s ban on the use of federal funds for abortion care. The final bill still denies funding for abortion services to underage victims of sex trafficking, who are overwhelmingly likely to become pregnant after enduring multiple rapes per day.

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Pro-choice representatives praised the passage of the JVTA without referencing the abortion restriction.

“Today marks a monumental step forward for human trafficking and sexual assault survivors all across the United States,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) in a statement.

Wasserman Schultz noted that the final bill contained three amendments she authored that deal with terminating rapists’ parental rights, training wounded veterans to investigate child exploitation, and training health-care providers to identify trafficking victims.

Kate D’Adamo, national policy advocate at the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project, told Rewire in an interview that the parental rights provision seemed promising, but that the wounded veterans idea was “flawed” and “ineffective” because it asks traumatized veterans with no experience to take a “vigilante” role on behalf of traumatized children.

Another amendment to the bill is raising alarms among civil liberties advocates for its potential to harm Internet freedom.

The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act could hold website owners criminally liable if someone advertises sex trafficking on their site. Advocates note that this could chill free speech on the Internet, and even backfire if sites stop exercising oversight so they can’t be accused of having knowledge of illegal activity.

Shutting down online advertising spaces for prostitution is said to be ineffective because online advertising helps law enforcement track traffickers, and dangerous because it forces people engaged in consensual sex work to solicit on the streets instead of vetting clients beforehand.

Advocates for sex workers and victims of trafficking say that at its core, the JVTA focuses too much on unproven law enforcement efforts and too little on the needs of survivors or measures that would prevent victimization.