WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on addiction-driven human trafficking. The Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking (PROTECT) Act would specifically address the use of drugs to facilitate human trafficking and protect vulnerable victims of trafficking.
Human traffickers often introduce or exploit drug addiction to control or force victims into prostitution or forced labor. This compounds the trauma experienced by human trafficking victims and undermines recovery efforts for individuals suffering from addiction. The PROTECT Act would combat this by:
- Amending existing human trafficking law to specify that the use of drugs or illegal substances to cause a person to engage in a commercial sex act or forced labor constitutes a form of coercion; and
- Including a provision in the bill to protect trafficking victims from prosecution, recognizing that victims are often forced to commit crimes by virtue of their own victimization.
“Traffickers will stop at nothing to exploit victims for their own personal gain,” said Senator Brown. “The PROTECT Act will provide enhanced measures for law enforcement officers who are working every day to bring these heinous criminals to justice.”
“Creating or exploiting addiction in victims is one atrocious way traffickers exert their power,” said Sen. Cornyn. “The PROTECT Act sends a message that preying on the addictions of victims will not be tolerated while protecting survivors from being punished as a result of coercion.”
“Human trafficking is abhorrent in all its forms, but the use of drugs and drug addiction to coerce victims presents particular hardship. Not only will the PROTECT Act ensure traffickers are fully prosecuted, it will also protect victims from being charged for drug use while being trafficked. Survivors face enough challenges in recovery without also being prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit,” said Senator Feinstein.
“Too often, drugs are used to coerce victims of human trafficking,” said Senator Portman. “This bipartisan legislation would better equip law enforcement to bring human traffickers to justice.”
“As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the horrors of human trafficking. The PROTECT Act gives law enforcement the tools to help ensure that traffickers who use drugs and substance use to control their victims are held accountable. Our bipartisan legislation also protects victims by recognizing that they are not criminals, their abusers are,” said Senator Klobuchar.
“We should do everything in our power to bring human traffickers to justice, particularly those who use drugs to control their victims,” said Senator Tillis. “I am proud to re-introduce this bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the penalties for these criminals and help ensure human traffickers are held accountable for their atrocious crimes.”
“Human trafficking is modern day slavery—a heinous crime that’s rampant across the nation and the world,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our bipartisan legislation will free survivors from the fear of prosecution for coerced criminal acts. Protecting and empowering them to come forward will help law enforcement bring predatory, pernicious human traffickers to justice.”
The Senators first introduced this bill last Congress, and will continue pushing for its passage. A number of law enforcement organizations and human trafficking victim advocacy groups have endorsed the PROTECT Act, including: the Fraternal Order of Police, National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition (NNOAC), National Sheriffs’ Association, Federal Law Enforcement Officers’ Association, International Union of Police Associations, Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation, National District Attorneys Association, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Truckers Against Trafficking, Shared Hope International, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CAT-W), Living In Freedom Together (LIFT), National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Child Welfare League of America, Love 146, My Life My Choice, Rights4Girls, Human Service Chamber of Franklin County
Last year, Sens. Brown, Portman and Cornyn introduced the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and secured its passage. The bill was signed into law by President Trump in April 2018. This legislation clarified Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to ensure that websites like Backpage.com, which knowingly facilitate sex trafficking, can be held liable and brought to justice.
A one-pager on the PROTECT Act can be found HERE.