WASHINGTON (BP)–A clash between the Department of Justice and foes of human trafficking over how to address the global problem is on display in the conflicting pieces of legislation they support.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is backing a Senate bill it says will help in its efforts to protect trafficking victims while prosecuting those behind the trade in sex and labor slaves. Anti-trafficking advocates, meanwhile, are supporting a bill already approved by the House of Representatives that they consider to be superior to the Senate version.
The House voted 405-2 in December for the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, H.R. 3887. The Senate, however, has refused to take action on the House version, which has received firm opposition from DOJ. On July 31, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a bill, S. 3061, to the full chamber, where it awaits floor action.
Some of the significant differences in the two bills, from the anti-trafficking movement’s perspective, were cited in a recent commentary on Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) website. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow at CWA’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, noted these contrasts, among others, between the bills, in the process explaining why the Senate version is a problem, especially regarding sex slavery:
— The versions differ in how they define prostitution.
“The Senate bill defines prostitution as a form of ‘labor or services,’ making the relationship between a pimp or trafficker and a prostituted person normative, just another employer and employee,” Crouse wrote. “The House bill maintains the critical distinction established in [the original anti-trafficking law of 2000] between commercial sex acts and the performance of ‘labor or services.’
“Supporters of legalized prostitution favor the ‘labor or services’ definition. Abolitionists view prostitution and sex trafficking as destructive and enslaving problems -– a human rights issue for women.”
DOJ utilizes the “labor or services” language in its “flawed Model Law,” Crouse said.
— The versions differ in whether victims must prove coercion in the prosecution of traffickers.
“The House bill and abolitionists consider the proof of force, fraud and coercion to be a means of enhancing punishment of the traffickers but not a baseline for prosecution,” Crouse said, adding they also believe the burden of proof should be “placed on the pimps and traffickers.”
The Senate bill does not include such a provision, and DOJ opposes its inclusion in the House version, she said.
“Considering that the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States is 12-14 years old, the House bill and abolitionists recognize that requiring proof of force, fraud or coercion in cases involving prostituted adults is a very high burden of proof and the burden falls on the victim,” Crouse wrote. “Prostituted minors are de facto trafficking victims, but victims not identified until after age 18 are often so scared or traumatized that they will not testify against their pimps and traffickers.”
— The versions differ in how traffickers are held accountable for the slavery of minors.
The House measure supports the opinions of six federal appeals courts “that authorize the conviction of sex traffickers without proof that the traffickers knew the victim was a minor,” Crouse wrote. The Senate bill uses a higher standard of proof, which “still allows a trafficker to claim they did not know the victim was a minor,” she said.
DOJ disagrees with the House language, Crouse said.
— The versions differ in how to address traffickers who exploit illegal immigrants.
The House bill deletes “the requirement that prosecutors prove the trafficker caused the illegal alien to come to the United States,” Crouse wrote. The House version thereby makes the trade of illegal immigrants a “per se crime,” Crouse wrote. “This closes a loophole that allows traffickers to say they were not the person who brought the victim into the country.”
The Senate version does not include such a section, and DOJ opposes the House provision, she said.
About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the Department of State’s trafficking office. This does not include millions of victims who are trafficked within their own national borders, the office says. As many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.
About 80 percent of the transnational victims are females, and as much as 50 percent are minors, according to the office. While human trafficking includes forced labor, as well as coercive recruitment of children as soldiers, the data show the majority of those trafficked across international borders are victims of sexual exploitation.
Composed by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.