After near unanimous passage by the US Senate and House of Representatives, President Obama quickly signed into law the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, the first comprehensive bill to address the domestic trafficking of American citizens.
But this historic victory for human rights will ring hollow unless the federal government implements the law, including the new fund that will enable it to work. Demand Abolition urges the Department of Justice and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to quickly establish direction for the new fund and provide resources to states so local law enforcement can arrest buyers and support victims. The attorney general can also ensure that the Bureau of Justice Statistics fulfills its requirements under this act to report on state use of trafficking laws. The JVTA calls for expanded training and a focus on the demand for sex trafficking. These provisions need to be enacted.
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), who introduced the bill in the House, said, “We have acknowledged international human trafficking for years. Now, we acknowledge and put sufficient resources behind the fight against the buying and selling of human beings. Slavery in America is not going to be tolerated. Buyers have escaped the long arm of the law for too long. The bill penalizes traffickers and buyers…and treats trafficking victims as victims and not criminals.”
The new law clarifies that those who buy sex can be prosecuted and convicted as sex trafficking offenders, rather than petty criminals. Buyers will be subject to a $5,000 fine—and those fines will help pay for increased services for victims and survivors. The legislation also creates a new US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking—with at least eight trafficking survivors—to make recommendations to the federal government on anti-trafficking strategies.
We applaud Congress and the President for recognizing that sex-buying is a choice buyers make, one that perpetuates an illegal and deeply damaging industry that harms tens of thousands of vulnerable victims in our communities. Holding buyers accountable for their choices while supporting survivors is critical to eliminating commercial sexual exploitation in America. And the only way to do that is to implement the new law.
On June 20, local executives will gather at the 83rd Annual Conference of Mayors in San Francisco. They are calling for Congress and the Obama Administration to fully implement JVTA. Dozens of mayors have already signed a resolution urging aggressive anti-trafficking interventions to end demand for sex buying in our nation’s cities. Eleven of these mayors represent cities in our CEASE Network (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation), a collaboration of local teams committed to reducing the demand for illegal sex in their communities by 20 percent within two years.
From the White House to Congress to City Hall, Americans are sending a clear message: no buyer, no business. By far the most efficient approach in ending commercial sexual exploitation is to focus on the buyers: When they stop buying, the entire system of degradation collapses. We must ensure that buyers get the message. Let’s implement the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Buyers beware.