03.17.15

Leahy: Victims Of Trafficking Deserve Our Attention

“We are talking about money collected from the very offenders who have already controlled too much of the lives of these women and girls. These survivors deserve more options, not fewer.”

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, March 17, 2015) – In a floor speech Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on lawmakers to listen to trafficking survivors and victims’ advocates  who are urging the Senate to take partisan politics out of pending legislation to combat human trafficking.

At issue is language in the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act authored by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) and pending in the Senate that would restrict the access of victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation to needed health services. Money to fund a newly-created victims’ fund in the Cornyn bill would be collected from convicted traffickers—not taxpayers.

Language restricting the use of these funds was not included in the comprehensive trafficking package reported by the Judiciary Committee last year under Leahy’s leadership and it was not included in the companion bill passed by the House on voice vote earlier this year.

“I want to make this clear to everyone who is paying attention to this vote. The partisan provision embedded in the Senate version of this bill is not something the survivors of human trafficking are asking for,” Leahy said. “It is not something the experts in the field who work with them every day are asking for. In fact, those who are closest to the damage wrought by this terrible crime are asking us to take the provision out.”

He added: “We are not talking about taxpayer money. We are talking about money collected from the very offenders who have already controlled too much of the lives of these women and girls. These survivors deserve more options, not fewer.”

Leahy unveiled a noncontroversial, comprehensive solution last week to the pending bill. The Leahy substitute, which has 27 Senate cosponsors, strips the controversial language in the Cornyn bill and adds important prevention efforts missing from the pending legislation by supporting efforts protect runaway and homeless youth from falling victim to trafficking. This alternative measure responds to the needs of victims’ groups who are urging the Senate to find a path forward to pass meaningful legislation.

“If we are serious about helping to end this heinous crime, we must stop trying to score political points and instead listen,” Leahy said. “We should be coming together to protect the most vulnerable among us. That is why we are here. I will vote no on cloture so that we can move forward and return to the bipartisan path that we have always walked on this issue.”

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