House passes sweeping overhaul of law to combat human trafficking

The House on Wednesday approved a sweeping reauthorization of the nation’s most comprehensive law to combat human trafficking, in a rare bipartisan vote.

The bill allocates $520 million over four years toward programs that aim to identify and aid victims of trafficking and prevent it from occurring.

The bill — called the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act — was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has written several anti-trafficking bills in the past, and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif. It passed by voice vote with no recorded opposition.

Programs covered by the act include educating children on how to avoid traffickers and training certain employers such as airlines on how to identify potential victims of trafficking. The bill also calls for both domestic and international efforts to combat trafficking and to prevent the sale in the U.S. of goods made by forced labor.

The updated law puts a greater emphasis on prevention methods, a change applauded by David Abramowitz, managing director for Humanity United.

“Once a child or a woman is trafficked or exploited, the pain and suffering is so immense,” Abramowitz told USA TODAY. “By putting prevention at the center of this struggle, we can prevent this suffering from happening in the first place.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 26,727 calls in 2016 and 7,572 human trafficking cases were reported in the U.S. that year. The Department of Homeland Security says the majority of trafficking cases go undetected in the U.S. each year.

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, it’s a sinister enterprise that strikes at the very heart of our communities,” said Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after the passage of the bill. “This is truly a national problem, and that means it’s going to take a national effort to solve it.”

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite