Human Trafficking Survivors Cannot Wait

Co-authored by Yasmin Vafa, Co-founder and Director of Law and Policy, Rights4Girls

Jade was kidnapped on her way home from school. Violently thrown into the trunk of a car and taken from her hometown, she was held against her will and tortured by her captor for six excruciating months. At 15 years old, she was sold to over 10 men per night and endured repeated physical violence and denial of food and sleep for days at a time. In hopes of escaping her nightmare, Jade would ask each man who purchased her to help her break free. She explained, in vain, that she was only a child and desperately wanted to return home. But in those six painful months not one man helped Jade. Instead, one by one, they forced her to perform the sexual acts they had paid for and returned her to her trafficker.

Jade was ultimately able to escape her trafficker, but for countless other children ensnared in the commercial sex trade, there is no escape. Even when victims of child sex trafficking come into contact with those who can assist them, such as law enforcement, they are often mischaracterized as delinquents or child prostitutes. Survivors recount having come into contact with healthcare providers, law enforcement, the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, and schools. In each of those cases, the child was not identified as a victim but instead branded a criminal and denied proper care.

Her story is far too common in the United States, but there is finally hope on the horizon for girls like Jade and other trafficking victims. Just recently, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a landmark piece of anti-trafficking legislation aimed at helping girls like Jade who are bought and sold in this country.

Our three offices worked together to ensure that the Senate-passed version of the package included our provision to properly train and educate the U.S. medical community on intervention methods for trafficking victims.

The bipartisan bill, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), provides unprecedented support to domestic victims of trafficking by increasing specialized training to law enforcement and other first responders, promoting the development of best practices for healthcare providers, partnering with Wounded Warriors to fight child exploitation, and making clear that buyers as well as traffickers are held legally and financially responsible for the crime of sex trafficking. Most importantly, the Senate-passed JVTA includes virtually all of the anti-trafficking bills passed overwhelmingly by the House in January -- and unlike its House companion, the Senate bill provides critical funding for domestic victim services. Simply stated, the Senate JVTA represents the most significant and comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in years. That is why we and many others are calling on the House to take up and pass the Senate bill.

There's no time to waste. The Senate JVTA represents real and significant progress in our fight to address domestic human trafficking. After several years of working together to get this legislation through the House and Senate, we are just one step away from making it law. Advocates and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to elevate the rights of survivors and bring justice and healing to victims of human trafficking all across the United States. It is now time for the House to finish the job by taking up and passing the Senate bill without further delay. Survivors are counting on them.

Jade is a real survivor of human trafficking in the United States. She shared this story at an event in Washington, D.C., via Saving Innocence, a direct service provider that affords comprehensive services and intensive case management to survivors of sex trafficking age 11 to 24.

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