The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act

. . . Chief RHYA Sponsor Leahy Urges Combatting Trafficking Before It Starts

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, March 10, 2015) – The Senate Tuesday morning began debate on legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation, a form of modern day slavery that affects thousands of people every day.  In a floor statement Tuesday, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said any legislation the Senate approves must include key protections for runaway and homeless youth who are among the most vulnerable to human trafficking.

“Human traffickers lurk around bus stops and parks where homeless kids congregate, offer promises of something to eat and a night off the streets.  They exploit the sad reality that most of these kids have no place to go.  Far too many of our cities have no shelters for kids and those that do face a chronic shortage of beds,” Leahy said in a floor statement.

Leahy, a former prosecutor, added:  “If we are serious about preventing human trafficking, we must protect these vulnerable kids.  We must include the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act in our efforts here to prevent more of our kids from becoming trafficking victims. We must provide the resources desperately needed by those on the front lines in protecting young people every day, like organizations in my home state of Vermont.  We owe it to all the survivors who bravely tell their stories, hoping to prevent just one more child from falling prey to this terrible crime.”

Recalling how the tragic death of Christal Jones showed that Vermont is not immune from this crisis, Leahy added: “In Vermont, we still remember the tragic case of a 16-year-old Burlington girl, Christal Jones, a foster child and runaway who was led into a world of heroin and prostitution.  In 2001, Christal was found dead in a Bronx apartment, strangled to death with a blend of drugs in her system, including the ‘date rape’ drug GHB.  Her death resulted in many more young girls from the Burlington area coming forward to describe how they, too, were caught up in this drug-and-prostitution ring that lured them to sell themselves on the streets of New York.  With Vermont now facing a Vermont heroin epidemic not seen before, I have every reason to believe that there are more runaway youths who face similar threats.”

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act (RHYA, S. 262) is a bipartisan bill authored by Leahy and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) that protects the vulnerable children they exploit and trains those on the front lines to identify. The bill, which was reported unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year, has 31 cosponsors and is supported by more than 260 organizations including 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.

The New York Times last week called on the Senate to approve the bipartisan prevention bill, and Leahy penned an op-ed with trafficking survivor Holly Austin Smith for the HuffingtonPost. Smith testified before the Judiciary Committee last month on her experience as a childhood victim of trafficking. A bipartisan group of women Senators has also called on the Senate to protect children from being trafficked.

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Prevention is a vital component of combatting human trafficking

  • A 2013 survey the Covenant House in New York 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.
  • The population of homeless teens has more than doubled since 2007 in the United States, and approximately 39% of the homeless population is under the age of 18
  • A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 46% of homeless youth had run away from home because of physical abuse and 17% because of sexual abuse
  • A growing number of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and it is estimated that they comprise up to 40% of the runaway & homeless youth population. 

The Collins-Leahy Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act

reauthorizes vital programs designed to stop the cycle of victimization

  • Basic Center Program - provides short-term emergency shelter for youth who do not have a place to sleep.  This bill also improves support for family reunification and intervention services, which can be critical to successful youth outcomes.
  • Street Outreach Program - provides crisis intervention and services referrals to runaway and homeless youth at street locations and drop-in centers.
  • National Support Activities offer guidance and assistance to grantees including a national runaway youth crisis line, training and technical assistance, a management information system, and access to evaluation tools to help grantees track the success of their efforts.
  • Transitional Living Program - provides longer-term residential services and life skills, education, and employment support to older youth to ensure they become productive, successful adults.

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