Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act 2015

This bill was enacted “(t)o provide justice for victims of trafficking.” It does this in a variety of provisions including expanding victim protections and services, developing training, increasing the capacity to detect, investigate, and prosecute human traffickers, changing laws/codes and acts, increasing funding and providing interagency and public reporting. The following is a highlight of some aspects of the bill, but by no means comprehensive. To check out the bill in its entirety or a summary you can visit here.

In providing justice for victims, this bill increases awareness and efficacy through training of law enforcement, task forces, judicial bodies, prosecutorial offices, and others whose jobs are related to human trafficking. Additionally the authority of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is increased with regard to investigate involuntary servitude, trafficking, forced labor, or peonage offenses. Furthermore, the DOJ is required to ensure those working within the Innocence Lost National Initiative (task forces and working groups) increase capabilities of law enforcement officers (state and local) and appropriate components/task forces “with jurisdictions” to detect, investigate, and prosecute “persons who patronize or solicit children for sex”. Training also extends to health care professionals which includes how to best respond and recognize victims of severe trafficking, how do these practices efficiently apply to health care positions, and how effective are these practices in recognizing and responding to victims of trafficking. Additionally the Department of Homeland Security must implement a program that includes training and procedures for those in the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes regular updates on current information on human trafficking.

The bill offers acts such as the Combat Human Trafficking Act of 2015 and the Bringing Missing Children Home Act. These acts include the requirements for training and updated information to better ascertain/detect, investigate, and prosecute offenders. They also provide services for victims of trafficking. The Combat Human Trafficking Act of 2015 guarantees technical training for anti-human trafficking programs under the DOJ guarantee the investigation and prosecution of buyers of commercial sex acts involving victims of trafficking in severe forms. Furthermore this act facilitates services (mental and physical) for trafficking victims. The Bringing Missing Children Home Act amends the Crime Control Act of 1990 and sets forth the following requirements; a recent photograph for missing children for state reports, records of the computer networks of the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer and the state law enforcement system to be updated and verified in 30 days, additional information about missing persons updated in the NCIC, and missing from child care institution or foster homes are reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Other provisions of the law redefine offenders, crimes, and the aftermath. For example the bill sets forth that people who produce child pornography are classified as “traffickers engaged in illicit sexual conduct”. Furthermore the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 was amended and the definition of “child abuse” now includes “human trafficking and the production of child pornography”. Also, the bill clarifies any confusion within the justice system with regard to offenses involving sex trafficking, stating that traffickers and buyers are “equally culpable”. In addition, increases in the burden of evidence on the defense changes from “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence” The statute of limitations for the trafficking of children was amended to include “10 years after the victim reaches 18 years of age, if the victim was a minor at the time of the alleged offense.” The Stop Advertising Victims Exploitation Act of 2015/ SAVE Act of 2015 amended the federal criminal code to prohibit the following; “knowingly: (1) advertising commercial sex acts involving a minor or an individual engaged in such an act through force, fraud, or coercion; or (2) benefitting financially or otherwise from such advertising knowing that the individual involved was a minor or victim of force, fraud, or coercion.”

Through the Human Exploitation Rescue Operations Act of 2015 (HERO), the Homeland Security Act of 2002 is amended, setting forth that a Cyber Crimes Center is operated by the Department of Homeland Security (within I.C.E., U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and supports investigations of cyber-related crimes by ICE internationally and domestically through training, equipment, and investigative aid. Also, a Child Exploitation Investigation Unit (CEIU), Computer Forensics Unit (CFU), and a Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU) will be operated by the DHS. Moreover, this act sets forth suggestions for those who should be hired (HERO Child Rescue Corps affiliated wounded or injured veterans) for positions and an amendment to the federal criminal code of sentencing and/or fines for the transportation of a person intended for prostitution or “any criminal sexual activity”.

The justice for victims provides services and rights for victims. For example, non-indigent traffickers convicted of human trafficking related offenses pay $5,000 which goes to the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund. Additionally personal and real property that were involved in the commission (or intended) of crimes of human trafficking is available for forfeiture, and subsequently restitution. Among other funding opportunities:
(t)he Attorney General may award block grants to an eligible entity to develop, improve, or expand domestic child human trafficking deterrence programs that assist law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judicial officials, and qualified victims’ services organizations in collaborating to rescue and restore the lives of victims, while investigating and prosecuting offenses involving child human trafficking.

In addition guidelines to receive services have been changed. For example homeless and runaway youth can be awarded grant services even if not victims of sex or sever forms of trafficking. Additionally, through the grant program for assistance the DOJ can offer housing to trafficking victims in the U.S. and other countries. The bill also changes the TVPA 2000 to allow for benefits and services to U.S. citizens and permanent residents even before certification of victim by Dept. of HHS. It even is mandatory that the Office of Juvenile justice and Delinquency Prevention website (through DOJ) provide a database of wide ranging services for trafficking survivors. In addition, victim information rights during prosecutions of traffickers and the of services, rights, and contacts is expanded. In order to develop a better response for victims of child sex trafficking, the bill amends the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to require a state plan for its child protective services system.

The Survivors of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act creates a council of trafficking survivors who will provide recommendations and advice to Senior Policy Operating Group and the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. The Human Trafficking Survivors Relief and Empowerment Act, which sets up additional criteria for granting preferential consideration of grant application under the public safety and community-oriented policing grant programs, provides a process for any human trafficking survivor to vacate any arrest or conviction records for a non-violent offense committed as result of trafficking including prostitution or lewdness. This also includes rebuttable presumption that any arrest or conviction of an individual for an offense associated with trafficking is a result of being trafficked.

Funding throughout the bill is allocated for many human trafficking services and responses. One example is in response to the finding that less than 5% of rape crimes come out with an conviction, the JVTA increases grant funding for specific states that meet guidelines. The JVTA hopes to decrease the continued interaction of the child with the rapist; and also eliminate the threat of the rapist to pursue parental rights as a means to control the child and avoid prosecution.

The bill sets for provisions to report on the efficacy and necessity of different parts of the bill, the efficacy to combat human trafficking nationally of state and federal law enforcement agencies (GAO reporting), and grant programs that assist victims of and combat human trafficking. It also sets for reporting of human trafficking within agencies and to the public.

Author: Katie McDonald and Tori Calderhead
July 14, 2015

 

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