IN the waning days of the 112th Congress, federal lawmakers must not overlook the needs of human-trafficking victims, many of whom are physically or psychologically abused and pushed into prostitution.
Efforts by Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and others in the U.S. Senate to fast-track reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act deservemore muscle. The anti-trafficking law enjoys widespread, bipartisan support but reauthorization has been stalled since the bill was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. Lawmakers were first preoccupied with the election and then with avoiding the fiscal cliff. A companion bill faces similar challenges in the House.
A sense of urgency ought to overtake Congress. Absent passage before the end of the year, the trafficking bill will have to be reintroduced in the 113th Congress and moved again through the requisite committees.
The law has been the catalyst for national innovation and improvements in anti-human-trafficking efforts since 2000. Each reauthorization adds critical new tools to keep up with changing tactics of human traffickers. The current proposal would add new protections for victims of child marriage and provide more resources for local law-enforcement efforts to prosecute people arrested for buying sex from minors.
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Washington state is at the forefront of this battle. The Legislature and local jurisdictions such as Seattle and Snohomish County have long devoted resources and law-enforcement efforts to combating trafficking and helping victims regain their lives.
But the imprimatur of federal law is important, both in the resources provided and as a model for coordinated efforts across the country. The District of Columbia and 47 states now have anti-trafficking criminal laws on the books. That is in no small part due to the presence of a federal template.
Local and national law-enforcement agencies and victims’ advocacy groups support the federal law’s reauthorization. Sen. Cantwell and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are trying to push the measure through by unanimous consent. It would take mere minutes for lawmakers to vote yes and renew efforts to battle heinous crimes against vulnerable people, including children.