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House passes sweeping overhaul of law to combat human trafficking

July 13, 2017 ·  By Emma Kinery , USA TODAY for www.usatoday.com

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(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)

The House on Wednesday approved a sweeping reauthorization of the nation’s most comprehensive law to combat human trafficking, in a rare bipartisan vote.

The bill allocates $520 million over four years toward programs that aim to identify and aid victims of trafficking and prevent it from occurring.

The bill — called the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act — was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has written several anti-trafficking bills in the past, and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. It passed by voice vote with no recorded opposition.

Programs covered by the act include educating children on how to avoid traffickers and training certain employers such as airlines on how to identify potential victims of trafficking. The bill also calls for both domestic and international efforts to combat trafficking and to prevent the sale in the U.S. of goods made by forced labor.

The updated law puts a greater emphasis on prevention methods, a change applauded by David Abramowitz, managing director for Humanity United.

“Once a child or a woman is trafficked or exploited, the pain and suffering is so immense,” Abramowitz told USA TODAY. “By putting prevention at the center of this struggle, we can prevent this suffering from happening in the first place.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 26,727 calls in 2016 and 7,572 human trafficking cases were reported in the U.S. that year. The Department of Homeland Security says the majority of trafficking cases go undetected in the U.S. each year.

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, it’s a sinister enterprise that strikes at the very heart of our communities,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after the passage of the bill. “This is truly a national problem, and that means it’s going to take a national effort to solve it.”

Over the past few weeks, the House has passed more than a dozen bills dealing with human trafficking, though the Frederick Douglass Act is the main bill that human rights activists have kept their eyes on. Speaking alongside Ryan, Smith said he was impressed with how seriously his colleagues were working to address the issue.

“I’ve been working on human trafficking since 1995,” Smith said. “Many people thought it was a solution in search of a problem. You’d say trafficking and their eyes would glaze over. This leadership … is making all the difference in the world — domestically and internationally – to mitigate this horror, this modern day slavery that disproportionately hurts women and children.”

The House also passed two other trafficking bills Wednesday. The Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act, sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., would direct the secretary of Labor to train employees within the Department of Labor on how to identify human trafficking victims and assist law enforcement in identifying victims. The Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act, sponsored by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., would allow law enforcement to use Byrne JAG grants to fund anti-human-trafficking programs.

“My Administration is focused on ending the horrific practice of human trafficking, and the three bills the House of Representatives passed today are important steps forward,” President Trump said in a White House statement. “I am hopeful that the Senate will take up and pass these three bills as soon as possible and I look forward to my continued work with the Congress on this important issue.”

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