03.12.15

Leahy Calls on Senate to Support Victims of Trafficking

. . . On Senate Floor, Leahy Spotlights the Work of Vermont Service Providers and Presses for Passage of Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, March 12, 2015) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is leading an effort on the Senate floor to advance homeless and runaway youth remedies to combat human trafficking.  In a floor speech Thursday, Leahy highlighted the work of Vermont service providers and urged lawmakers from both parties to come together behind his legislation to target traffickers and protect runaway and homeless youth.

“The Executive Director of the Vermont Coalition of Runaway & Homeless Youth Programs wrote to me yesterday to express their support for the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act and to urge the members of this body to put their differences aside and work together to support those in need,” Leahy said.  “I could not agree more.  Vermonters and all Americans need us to work together and get this done.”

The bipartisan Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act – which he introduced with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and which he is pressing to add to the general anti-trafficking bill, supports grant programs that provide runaway and homeless youth with housing and counseling services.  He points out that the Leahy-Collins bill fills the missing prevention element of the anti-trafficking approach in the pending Senate bill.  He says prevention is crucial because, as more than 270 organizations wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee, “School-age children not living with their parents are at the greatest risk for coerced labor exploitation, domestic servitude, or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The Leahy-Collins measure, which had the broad support of the Judiciary Committee last year, is incorporated in a comprehensive package Leahy offered as a substitute amendment on Thursday to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178).  That bill, currently pending in the Senate, includes controversial language that would restrict victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation from being able to access needed health services.  The substitute Leahy offered on Thursday seeks to break the impasse by stripping the controversial language and offering a more comprehensive solution to combatting the scourge of human trafficking.

Earlier this week, Leahy recalled the tragic death of Christal Jones which showed that Vermont is not immune from this crisis.

“In Vermont, we still remember the tragic case of a 16-year-old Burlington girl, Christal Jones, a foster child and runaway who was led into a world of heroin and prostitution,” he said.  “In 2001, Christal was found dead in a Bronx apartment, strangled to death with a blend of drugs in her system, including the ‘date rape’ drug GHB.  Her death resulted in many more young girls from the Burlington area coming forward to describe how they, too, were caught up in this drug-and-prostitution ring that lured them to sell themselves on the streets of New York.  With Vermont now facing a Vermont heroin epidemic not seen before, I have every reason to believe that there are more runaway youths who face similar threats.”

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