04.22.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee On Consideration of Amendment 301 to S. 178

This substitute brings together three important bills that provide a comprehensive approach to preventing human trafficking and helping survivors rebuild their lives.

First, it includes the Leahy-Collins-Murkowski-Ayotte amendment to protect runaway and homeless youth from trafficking.  Second, it includes the Klobuchar-Cornyn bill as reported last month by the Judiciary Committee.  This safe harbor bill encourages states to treat victims of trafficking as the victims they truly are, and not as criminals.  Finally, it includes the Cornyn-Klobuchar bill, S. 178, but without the divisive language that limits victims’ services. 

My amendment responds to the requests of survivors and the many dedicated people who work with them who have urged us to remove the unnecessary and harmful provision that has stalled this bill for weeks.  Congress has a long history of passing legislation to address human trafficking and we have consistently done so without abortion politics being injected into the discussion.  My amendment would return us to that path.

My amendment would also make sure we are preventing human trafficking in the first place.  We must protect our young people before they become victims.

And the best way to do that is to support runaway and homeless kids.  Without a safe place to sleep, these children and teens are exceptionally vulnerable to human traffickers. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, first passed in 1974, funds tried and true programs to help these youth stabilize their lives. 

This substitute amendment reauthorizes and strengthens these critical programs. It adds training for service providers so they can better identify victims of trafficking and refer them to appropriate resources. 

It also includes language to prevent discrimination against homeless youth based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  A growing number of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBT, and many of them have been thrown out of their homes for who they are.  As a parent and grandparent that is heartbreaking to me.  We must ensure that these vulnerable children who have already been rejected do not face rejection again because of how they look, or dress, or who they love. 

I urge all Senators to support this amendment.  If we are serious about listening to survivors and responding to their needs – if we are serious about preventing human trafficking, and protecting vulnerable children in the first place – this amendment is the strongest option before us.

The combination of these three bills should bring us together.  I urge the Senate to support this comprehensive substitute.

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