House prepares for rare votes on standalone bills to curb human trafficking

A heavy focus on the problem within U.S. borders

Chris Moody, Yahoo News
Yahoo News


The U.S. House of Representatives is planning to vote on a series of bills Tuesday aimed at combating human trafficking as part of a federal crackdown on sex slavery and child endangerment within the United States.

While the five bills being put forward in the Republican-controlled House would primarily address domestic trafficking, they come amid a massive advocacy campaign focused on rescuing 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria who were kidnapped — reportedly for purposes of sexual slavery — by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In addition to the bills, which have been in the works for months, the House also plans to vote Tuesday on a resolution condemning the kidnapping.

The five bills are up for votes. The “Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act” aims to shut down online markets in sexual service by amending the U.S. code “to provide a penalty for knowingly selling advertising that offers certain commercial sex acts.” The “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” would invest in services for victims and increase and streamline law enforcement capabilities. The “Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act” would encourage states to adopt safe harbor laws for victims and job opportunities through the federal Jobs Corps program. The “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act” aims to provide resources for children in foster care. And the “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking” goes after pederasts who go abroad to abuse youngsters; it provides for notification of foreign governments when Americans convicted of the sexual abuse of a minor travel abroad.

The bipartisan bills are part of an agenda spearheaded by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, to emphasize issues beyond taxes and spending. Cantor — and the Republican Party in general — are attempting to rebrand the GOP by promoting a more compassionate legislative plan as it seeks inroads with a broader range of voters, particularly young women. Although the effort has faced significant growing pains, the bills presented Tuesday are likely to pass.

As part of the vote series’ rollout, Cantor’s staff built a website about human trafficking, and the bill’s lead sponsors, all Republican, produced a video promoting the cause.

“Human trafficking is a horrific epidemic that terrorizes millions of families around the world, including here in America,” said Rory Cooper, a Cantor spokesman. “The House is taking action to help protect these innocent victims, hold offenders accountable and bring us closer to ending this modern-day slavery.”

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Securing vote time for standalone bills tackling human trafficking is rare in the House. Historically, most legislation concerning the issue is saved for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.

“We haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Britanny Vanderhoof, policy counsel for the Polaris Project, a group that works on trafficking issues. “This session was unique because we saw a lot of individual bills being introduced outside of a reauthorization year.”

Awareness of domestic human trafficking has grown in the past few years, as advocacy groups and the federal government have ramped up campaigns to highlight the issue. The State Department began including the U.S. in its annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" only in 2010. The agency estimates that there are as many as 21 million victims of human trafficking globally and that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.

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