The U.S. government needs to be continually equipped to fight the scourge of human trafficking in new and effective ways, said members of Congress introducing an anti-trafficking bill on Thursday.
“We have a huge human trafficking problem in the United States, and it needs to be combated even more robustly than it has,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said on Thursday at the capitol, introducing the Frederick R. Douglas Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017.
“We must shatter the anonymity of purchasing sex and the violence against our women, our boys, and our young girls,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who joined Smith at the press conference, said.
The new legislation, titled the “Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017,” is co-sponsored by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith and California Democrat Rep. Karen Bass.
Seven other sponsors have put their support behind the bill, which would reauthorize $130 million in funding to stop human trafficking and provide aid to victims.
“It is an honor to commemorate Frederick Douglass with this legislation, highlighting his unending dedication to the prevention and eradication of slavery,” Smith said in a statement. Frederick Douglass was a slave who, once he escaped slavery at age 20, became a chief advocate against slavery in the U.S. and against the prejudiced Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War era. Douglass insisted that education is freedom, Ken Morris, Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, said on Thursday. Education must be upheld as the “primary prevention” of trafficking, he insisted, saying ““the prevention education era is here.”
The original TVPA included provisions for sheltering and support for victims, tough punishment of those convicted of trafficking, and introduced actions the U.S. could take against countries which failed to abide by the international trafficking standards set up by the act. The State Department ranks countries in a tier system in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, and actions can be taken against the worst countries.
The bill will also provide: education to susceptible minors, who could be vulnerable to traffickers; incentivize to hotels to train staff to spot the signs of trafficking; require airlines to train pilots and flight attendants on spotting trafficking; encourages survivors to work with the government to prevent trafficking.
“Human trafficking is the most profitable criminal enterprise in the world after drugs, and it is able to flourish because predators purchase sex in a supply and a demand market,” Wagner said, adding that the U.S. must more vigorously enforce anti-trafficking laws.
According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons report, illicit human trafficking and forced labor make up a $150 billion worldwide industry with estimates of 20 million victims. As many as 800,000 trafficking victims are brought through the U.S. annually.
The bill will be heard before members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 2.