The fight against human trafficking

Published 7:00 am Thursday, March 12, 2015

The fight against human trafficking is a bipartisan battle. The buying and selling of humans is not a crime isolated to distant places but is happening in every U.S. state. Although the exact number of exploited men, women, and children nationwide is difficult to pinpoint, approximately 21 million people are trafficked around the world. Women and children are particularly at risk.
Since the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act” was first passed in 2000, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to put policies in place that punish offenders and protect victims. This work continues with two anti-trafficking bills that are set to come before the Senate in the coming days.
I am a cosponsor of both of these bills, which would target the needs of trafficking victims in constructive ways. The “Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act,” introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would encourage states to adopt “safe harbor” laws ensuring minors who have been exploited for sex are treated as victims and not criminals. Likewise, the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act,” introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), would use fines levied against convicted traffickers to start a fund for victim support programs. Each bill recognizes the complex issues that surround trafficking and the rehabilitation that its victims deserve.
Wicker Amendments Would Strengthen Victim Outreach
I am encouraged that an open-amendment process is expected to accompany this legislation when it comes to the Senate floor. This is a welcome change from recent years under Democratic control, when Senators were prevented from submitting amendments because of tactics used by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
I intend to introduce amendments to enhance Sens. Cornyn and Klobuchar’s bills. These ideas were part of the “End Trafficking Act” that I authored last year. One of my proposals would encourage specialized court dockets and judicial supervision for trafficking victims through a pilot program modeled after the federal drug court system. Another would create a Department of Justice database for education and outreach to assist families, advocates, crisis hotline personnel, law enforcement, and survivors. A third would extend the statute of limitations for child victims to sue up to 10 years after they reach the age of 18.
Mississippi Launches Anti-Trafficking Task Force
It will take a comprehensive approach to curb the drivers of trafficking and give survivors an opportunity to restart their lives. State and local governments play an integral role in this fight by implementing strategies that crack down on perpetrators and help facilitate access to counseling for victims. Mississippi is working to find solutions with a new human trafficking task force created by Gov. Phil Bryant. The group, launched in December 2014, brings together the expertise of representatives from government, law enforcement, the legal system, the education system, and social services. They are expected to conduct research, review Mississippi’s laws, and submit recommendations by July of this year.
Freedom is at the bedrock of our national identity, yet there are innocent Americans who have had this basic right taken away from them.
The fight continues to restore their lives, punish those responsible, and keep our communities safe.

By Senator Roger Wicker

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