Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today introduced the Combat Human Trafficking Act, which would strengthen law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute all who commit sex trafficking crimes, particularly the buyers of sex acts from trafficking victims. Enforcement efforts often focus on prosecuting the sellers of these acts because of challenges in prosecuting buyers.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide, making it the second largest criminal industry behind the drug trade. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that up to 83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens, and the average victim is first trafficked between ages 12 and 14. According to the California Department of Justice, California is one of the top four destination states for trafficking victims.
The Combat Human Trafficking Act would increase penalties for buyers of sex acts from trafficking victims, expand reporting on trafficking prosecutions, require training on targeting and prosecuting buyers and on providing victims with health services and restitution, expand wiretapping authority to cover all human trafficking offenses, and strengthen crime victims’ rights.
“The sexual exploitation of children and other trafficking victims is a stain on our society that we must do more to stop,” said Senator Feinstein. “Current law makes it difficult to prosecute buyers, and they often escape with a slap on the wrist or aren’t prosecuted at all. Our bill reduces barriers to prosecutions, encouraging the federal government to hold buyers accountable and reduce the demand for human trafficking.”
“This legislation sends a clear message to those who victimize children that we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law,” said Senator Portman. “By strengthening laws against buyers, we can take steps toward reducing demand and ensuring criminals are fully prosecuted.”
The Combat Human Trafficking Act would:
- Reduce demand for human trafficking by:
- Clarifying that a buyer of a commercial sex act from a trafficking victim can be prosecuted under the commercial sex trafficking statute (18 U.S.C. § 1591), codifying the Eighth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Jungers, 702 F.3d 1066 (8th Cir. 2013).
- Making a seller or buyer of a sex act strictly liable, with respect to the victim’s age, if the victim is under the age of 18, thereby sparing child victims from having to testify and be re-traumatized.
- Establishing a minimum period of five years of supervised release for a person who conspires to violate the commercial sex trafficking statute (§ 1591), thereby making conspirators subject to the same term of supervised release as those convicted of attempting to violate the statute or of violating the statute.
- Require the Bureau of Justice Statistics to prepare an annual report on the number of arrests, prosecutions, convictions and lengths of sentences regarding sex trafficking offenses prosecuted in state courts.
- Direct the Department of Justice to ensure that each anti-human trafficking training program it offers includes training on effective methods for investigating and prosecuting the buyers of sex acts involving trafficking victims and connecting trafficking victims with health care providers.
- Direct the Department of Justice to ensure that federal law enforcement officers investigate and prosecute buyers of sex acts involving trafficking victims.
- Direct the Department of Justice and the Federal Judiciary to provide training to federal prosecutors and judges on seeking and ordering restitution, respectively, for human trafficking victims. This responds to a recent report issued by The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center that found that federal prosecutors did not seek restitution in 37% of qualifying human trafficking cases brought between 2009 and 2012, even though restitution for trafficking victims is mandatory under federal law. When the prosecutor did not seek restitution, it was granted in only 10% of cases. Overall, restitution was awarded in only 36% of cases.
- Expand federal and state wiretapping authority to cover all human trafficking offenses, specifically peonage, involuntary servitude, forced labor, child sexual exploitation, child pornography production, slavery and involuntary servitude.
- Strengthen crime victims’ rights by:
- Amending the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to provide victims with the right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea agreement or deferred prosecution agreement.
- Clarifying that, when a victim is denied his or her rights in the lower court and appeals that denial, the appellate court shall apply ordinary standards of appellate review. This would codify the more victim-protecting rule, followed by the Second, Third, and Ninth Circuits.
- The Combat Human Trafficking Act is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, Shared Hope International, ECPAT-USA, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), Human Rights Project for Girls, Survivors for Solutions, Sanctuary For Families, World Hope International, Prostitution Research & Education, MISSSEY, Breaking Free, Equality Now, National Organization for Victim Assistance, Seraphim Global, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, City of Oakland, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition and Casa Cornelia Law Center.