Leahy: Senate Must Support All Victims Of Human Trafficking

Anti-Trafficking Bills Reported by SJC Do Not Include Protections For Runaway & Homeless Youth

WASHINGTON (Thursday, February 26, 2015) –The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced legislation to combat human trafficking, two days after the panel heard compelling testimony on the need to pass meaningful legislation to prevent vulnerable youth from becoming targets of trafficking and sexual exploitation. However, the measures approved today fall short of protecting the runaway and homeless youth who are among the most vulnerable to human trafficking.


Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has long worked on legislation to combat human trafficking and is the author of the bipartisan Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (S. 262), with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), said they would fight for the full Senate to take up and pass their bill.


Leahy said:  “What the Senate Judiciary Committee reported today is less supportive of the fight against human trafficking than what we passed last year.  It is only a part of what the Senate needs to pass.  If we are serious about addressing this problem we must also do all we can to stop this devastating crime from happening in the first place.”


Prior to Thursday’s markup, Leahy sought to incorporate his legislation coauthored with Collins into the broader trafficking package that was ultimately approved by the committee.  Despite the Leahy-Collins bill having overwhelming support last year in the Committee, it was met with opposition by Committee Republicans this year because of its nondiscrimination language to ensure all youth can receive services regardless of their sexual orientation. Instead, the Committee passed an amendment by the chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), that amends an expired program without reauthorizing it.


As the Senate prepares to consider anti-trafficking legislation on the floor as early as next week, Leahy said he would continue to press for Senators to support his bipartisan bill.


“There may be a way to come to an agreement on this important anti-discrimination language,” Leahy said.  “Regardless, Senator Collins and I will insist on our bill being considered as an amendment on the floor once what is reported today is brought up for consideration.  I support efforts to combat trafficking and to protect all victims, and I will continue to work with the authors of other trafficking bills and with Senator Collins to make sure our prevention legislation receives a vote by the full Senate.”


At a Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week, four women Senators including Collins voiced their strong support for legislation to protect runaway and homeless youth. Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also spoke in support of the legislation at Tuesday’s hearing, which was scheduled at the request of all 20 women Senators.


The Committee also heard Tuesday from Jayne Bigelsen, who leads the anti-trafficking initiative at Covenant House in New York. A 2013 study by her organization that found that 1 in 4 homeless youth became a victim of sex trafficking or was forced to provide sex for survival needs, such as food or a place to sleep. Of these victims, about half reported that the number one reason they had been drawn into commercial sexual activity was because they did not have a safe place to sleep. She also told Senators that “we believe LGBTQ youth are at even higher risk for trafficking.”


Also testifying at the Committee’s hearing Tuesday was trafficking survivor and advocate Holly Austin Smith, who said: “Many survivors, including myself, agree that policies on prevention should be one of our highest priorities, which is why it should also be a priority for policymakers.”


The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act has 17 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate. It is supported by the National Network for Youth, the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, the True Colors Fund, the Center for American Progress, and the Human Rights Campaign, among many others. 


A copy of the Leahy-Collins bill is also available online


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