Senate reaches anti-trafficking compromise

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed April 22 a version of The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act after reaching a bipartisan compromise that will prevent monies for victims of human trafficking from funding abortions.

As passed, the bill increases penalties for human traffickers, funds support for victims, strengthens the ability of law enforcement to investigate such crimes, and makes the victims’ patrons — commonly called “johns” — equally responsible as the traffickers themselves.

Debate on the bill had centered mainly on whether the act would create further limitations to abortion specified under the 1976 Hyde Amendment that prevents the use of public funds for abortion, except in cases of rape and incest. In the compromise, the Senate specified that fines collected from human traffickers would only be used for non-health care services, while federal money for community health centers would be used to cover abortions of unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Pro-life groups supported the GOP stand and stated that Congress needs to make permanent the prohibition on taxpayer-backed abortions. “Making the Hyde Amendment permanent would end the practice of using a confusing patchwork of laws, may of which are temporary, to restrict taxpayer funding for abortion,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

The bill, which passed the Senate 99-0 with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas absent, now goes to the U.S. House, which earlier passed a version of the bill that does not include a victim’s fund, among other differences, The New York Times reported.

In remarks on the Senate floor, the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn, R.-Texas, also thanked the Senate for its bipartisanship.

“This body’s consideration of this bill has proven that compromise and bipartisanship need not be relics of the past in today’s Washington, but they are very much alive and well, particularly when the need is so very great as it is in this area,” Cornyn said. “We have found a way now on a bipartisan basis to move this legislation forward so we can offer a hand to rescue these victims of human trafficking. We can give them an opportunity to heal, and we can provide them some hope for a better future.”

The act will begin to reverse the prevalent practice of criminalizing the victims of human trafficking, Cornyn said, and will instead offer much-needed resources for victims.

The act was among several anti-trafficking bills introduced in Congress this year. Among them is the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, introduced Feb. 24 by Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn. with bipartisan support.

“Today more than 27 million people, many of them women and children, suffer under forced labor and sexual servitude in over 165 countries around the world, including our own,” Corker said in introducing the bill. “Despite the pervasive nature of this horrific practice, modern slavery is a crime of opportunity that thrives where enforcement is weak, so raising the risk of prosecution can achieve significant results.”

Corker’s bill would establish the nonprofit End Modern Slavery Initiative Foundation and empower it with $1.5 billion in private and public monies to fund several anti-slavery initiatives.

— by Diana Chandler | BP

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