Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On His Human Trafficking Amendment To The Violence Against Women Act

Today, after more than a week of consideration, the Senate will finally vote on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.  This is a good bill that makes needed changes recommended by victims and those who work with them every day. I urge all those Senators who have opposed reauthorizing VAWA to end their opposition and join with us.  Despite the predictions by some that the Republican House of Representatives will refuse to consider the Senate bill, as it did last year, I see reason for hope. 

Just yesterday 17 Republican members of the House wrote to their own leadership urging immediate reauthorization of VAWA.  They rejected the ideological opposition of Heritage and the Family Research Council.  They recognize that VAWA is effective, efficient and successful “in curbing domestic violence and supporting victims,” and that “VAWA programs save lives.”  They also note, as I have said repeatedly on this floor:  “VAWA must reach all victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in every community in the country.” I ask that a copy of the Republican members’ letter to Speaker Boehner be included in the record at this point.  

The Senate has rejected the Republican substitute and defeated the Coburn amendment to strip the tribal jurisdiction provisions that have been included in the Senate bill for the past two years.  Those amendments would have greatly narrowed VAWA’s ability to prevent crime and help victims and would have undercut our commitment to all victims of rape and domestic violence.  I hope Senators will continue to vote against amendments that weaken this important legislation.

This morning the Senate has the opportunity to vote for an amendment that goes in the opposite direction from the Coburn amendments by allowing us to help more victims of serious crime in the United States and around the world.  This morning the Senate is to vote on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  That is another bipartisan bill that was written with the input of victims and service providers to make critical improvements to existing law.  Last year, this legislation had 57 cosponsors – including 15 Republicans. In particular, I thank Senator Rubio who has been a strong cosponsor of this important measure.

Today is February 12, the day on which Abraham Lincoln was born. It was one hundred and fifty years ago that he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and it would be fitting that the Senate pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act on his birthday.  Although the 13th amendment to our Constitution was ratified long ago making slavery illegal, we continue to fight human trafficking, which can amount to modern day slavery. This terrible crime still occurs throughout the world – including in the United States of America.  The Polaris Project estimates that there are more than 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide today. 

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act will help us continue to make real progress on this issue.  It is a parallel effort to our reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  Our effort is to stop human trafficking at its roots by supporting both domestic and international efforts to fight against trafficking and to punish its perpetrators.  We provide critical resources to help support victims as they rebuild their lives. 

This measure strengthens criminal anti-trafficking statutes to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to effectively combat all forms of trafficking.  It ensures better coordination among federal agencies, between law enforcement and victim service providers, and with foreign countries to work on every facet of this complicated problem. It includes measures to encourage victims to come forward and report this terrible crime, which leads to more prosecutions and help for more victims.

We have included accountability measures to ensure that Federal funds are used for their intended purposes, and we have streamlined programs to focus scarce resources on the approaches that have been the most successful.  A Senator asserted yesterday that trafficking programs have been wasteful and duplicative.  In fact, the programs supported by this amendment have been carefully tracked and shown to be effective.  Nonetheless, the amendment reduces authorization levels by almost a third from the levels in the last reauthorization because we are determined to ensure efficiency and respond to concerns.  We have made similar efforts to streamline VAWA.

The United States remains a beacon of hope for so many who face human rights abuses.  We know that young women and girls – often just 11, 12, or 13 years old – are being bought and sold.  We know that workers are being held and forced into labor against their will.  I urge all Senators to join in passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  People in this country and millions around the world are counting on us. 


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