Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary On Senate Consideration of the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act

As another polar vortex bears down on states across the country this week, we must consider how the dropping temperatures across the nation will impact those who do not have refuge from the cold.  The issue of homelessness is especially urgent in places like my home state of Vermont. For those of us lucky enough to have warm homes, winter brings a magical beauty. But for those without shelter, the cold nights can be deadly.  Unfortunately, for homeless teens, winter can also mean even greater vulnerability to being victimized by human traffickers.  

That is why we must pass the Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act today.  This should be unanimous.  We are talking about helping homeless children and victims of human trafficking. There is no good reason to oppose this measure.

The programs supported by the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program provide essential resources to homeless children who need our help.  Amanda, for example, is an 18-year-old living in Bellows Falls, Vermont, and participating in the Transitional Living Program at the Youth Services of Windham County.  Amanda’s mother gave her and her four siblings up for adoption when she was two.  When she was 13, her adoptive mother died of a stroke.  Amanda was devastated, suffered academically and eventually dropped out of school, then struggled with substance abuse and became homeless.  

Fortunately, Amanda was connected with the Youth Services of Windham County, and has turned her life around.  She is sober, she is on track to graduate from high school, and she has a job.  Amanda says of her youth worker Danielle, “she is part of the reason why I try to keep doing so good…Without her, I wouldn’t have what I have today.”  Funds authorized by this bill made Amanda’s transformation possible.  Once headed for a life of dependency, she is now poised to become a successful and contributing young adult. 

There are currently 1.6 million homeless teens in this country like Amanda, and they need us to do our job and pass this bill.  This bill reauthorizes critical outreach and emergency shelter services that have provided lifesaving support for the last 40 years.  It takes historic steps to address the growing population of homeless LGBT youth by ensuring that no young person is denied services based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  It also addresses new dangers that our young people face, like sexual exploitation and human trafficking, which urgently require our attention.  

Human trafficking is a growing problem in the United States, and traffickers prey upon our weakest young people, especially those in need of money or shelter.  Too often, homeless children become trapped in devastating cycles of abuse and exploitation. 

Runaway and homeless youth service providers are our first line of defense.  This bill makes sure they are trained to identify victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking, so they can help victims become survivors.  

After this bill was first introduced in July, it was considered by the Judiciary Committee, and was voted out in September with strong bipartisan support.  We had bipartisan input on the legislation, including from  Senator Cornyn who offered an amendment that included nearly every provision of his “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.” This amendment gives law enforcement new tools to combat human trafficking and provides expanded support for victims of sexual exploitation.  

Working across the aisle to enhance this bill and get it passed reminds me of the way both houses of Congress came together to pass the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act just last year.  Domestic violence, like youth homelessness, is not new.  However, the challenges faced by victims are constantly changing and we must be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.  We cannot become complacent in the face of suffering.  We need to pass this bill. 

I thank Senator Collins for working with me on this legislation and for joining me as an original cosponsor.  I ask for the support of every Senator to pass the Leahy-Collins Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.  The American people expect it, and our humanity demands it.

I ask unanimous consent that my full statement be printed in the Record.

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