WASHINGTON, D.C.–Human trafficking is not only a problem in Mississippi, but across the entire country. While Mississippi is dealing with it on a state level by forming a task force, senators Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran are supporting a national bill to deal with it in Washington.
The bill, “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act,” S. 178, would broaden protections for victims and hold traffickers and purchasers equally accountable for their crimes, said a news release from Wicker’s camp.
“Trafficking does not discriminate by background or race, but women and children are especially at risk,” said Wicker. “This is the ‘War on Women’ that should be in news headlines. As policymakers, our energy would be well-spent on fighting sex trafficking – a daily war fought by young women robbed of their freedom, their dignity, their childhoods, and often their very lives.”
The “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” follows in a long line of bipartisan efforts to punish the perpetrators of trafficking and support the rehabilitation of its victims. Broad federal action began in 2000, when Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly passed the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act.”
Wicker has filed three amendments to S.178, inspired by the “End Trafficking Act,” which he introduced in 2014.
- The first amendment would create a Department of Justice database for education and outreach. The database would assist survivors, families, law enforcement, crisis hotline personnel, and advocates, providing valuable resources on counseling, housing, legal assistance, and other services.
- The second amendment would extend the statute of limitations to allow child victims to file civil suits against perpetrators up to 10 years after they reach the age of 18. Under current law, the statute of limitations expires 10 years after the cause of action arises.
- The final amendment would expand the definition of “child abuse and neglect” in the “Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.” This new definition recognizes the serious role that commercial sexual exploitation plays in abuse and neglect by ensuring that the minimum standards for defining child abuse include the commercial exploitation of children.
The underlying bill also includes a provision championed by Wicker to treat trafficking victims as victims and not as criminals. The provision would establish trafficking survivors’ courts with specialized court dockets and judicial supervision that would put the well-being of victims first. Often, these juveniles are charged with a delinquency offense and detained when they need counseling and support.
Meanwhile, as Democrats filibustered the bill in the Senate Thursday, Cochran called on them to let the bill go through.
“Human trafficking is not a distant problem that can be ignored. The truth is that human trafficking is a heinous crime that exploits the most vulnerable. It is occurring throughout the country and among people from all backgrounds,” said Cochran, a member of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking.
“This bill has broad support and a noble goal. It’s unfortunate that help for human trafficking victims is being held hostage to political posturing. I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to reconsider their stance,” he said.
Wicker’s camp said the bill is endorsed by 200 advocacy groups, including the NAACP, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rights 4 Girls, National Association to Protect Children, Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.