This week, after belabored weeks of discussion, the U.S. Senate chose not to look the other way in regard to one of America's forms of modern day slavery—sex trafficking.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 passed in a unanimous vote of 99-0 on the Senate floor this past Wednesday, April 22. According to Congress.gov, the act amends the former Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 by expanding provisions for rescued victims and increasing functionality of current laws. Additionally, the act provides federal funding for sex trafficking victim rehabilitation groups, law enforcement training, and furthered prosecution for perpetrators.The act will grant the desperately needed funding to safe home efforts as well, as the space for rescued victims is slim at best. Rescued victims will also receive affirmative defense which allows them the chance to testify against their traffickers in court.
Supporters of the bill were relieved as this bill has taken quite an atypical route to passage: the Washington Post reported that most of the tension in the Senate swirled around what Democrats alleged was "a subtle expansion of long-term federal abortion restriction" within the act.
Without compromising the abortion issue, a select group of Congressmen pressed still managed to pass the act without provisions of federal funding for abortion. This act will put backing to the statements made by legislators for the past years. Congressman Mark Walker has served as one of the main supporters of this bill as he passed similar legislation in North Carolina earlier this year. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act incorporates language from Walker’s own bill, the Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015, which was passed without opposition in January.
Congressman Walker expressed his conviction in a challenge to lawmakers, “We took an oath promising to protect the people of this great country, and I am convinced that part of this high calling is protecting those who are victims of human trafficking."
Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that the agreement between Republicans and Democrats “is really good news.” As reported by Washingtonpost.com, Reid said, “This compromise is evidence that when Republicans and Democrats sit down together and work toward a solution, great things can happen. The Senate needs more of this.”
The IJM Club on Covenant’s campus provided the opportunity for students to voice their support for the act through the Polaris Project Petition. These signatures called for Congress' immediate attention to the proposed bill. By the IJM club taking the simple step of amassing signatures, these efforts have made a real-world impact.
Implementation of the bill will likely take place gradually over the next few months, but the conversation in Washington is no longer empty words and faulty promises. Instead of days passing due to argumentation, the trafficked will receive the assistance they desperately need coming out of such darkness.