TOLEDO, OH – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined northwest Ohio law enforcement and human trafficking victim advocates as he introduces bipartisan legislation to crack down on drug-facilitated 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. Brown’s legislation is also co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rob Portman (R-OH).
“Traffickers will stop at nothing to exploit victims for their own personal gain,” said Brown. “The PROTECT Act will provide enhanced measures for law enforcement officers who are working every day to bring these heinous criminals to justice.”
- The PROTECT Act would amend 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.
- The PROTECT Act also contains a provision to protect trafficking victims from prosecution, recognizing that victims are often forced to commit crimes.
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.
Brown was joined at the news conference by Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp and northwest Ohio victim advocates including Dr. Celia Williamson, Director of University of Toledo’s Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute, and Cara Rearick, a mental health counselor at A Renewed Mind. Ms. Rearick also read a statement on behalf of a local human trafficking victim.
“Senator Brown's bill is critical for our community's efforts to combat human trafficking as it speaks to the issue of opiates and the role they play to enslave vulnerable people in human trafficking,” said Dr. Williamson.
“This legislation is critical because it gets to the heart of the issue which is drug addiction and how traffickers are exploiting and controlling young women and boys to keep them trapped in this horrible life of sex trafficking. In my experience, I have rarely encountered anyone who has not been involved in sex trafficking without addiction or coercion being involved,” said Ms. Rearick.
Brown’s bipartisan, bicameral legislation has also been endorsed by a number of law enforcement organizations and human trafficking victim advocacy groups including: the Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major County Sheriff’s Association, National District Attorney’s Association, Polaris Project, Human Service Chamber of Franklin County, Shared Hope International, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Truckers against Trafficking.
A one-pager on the bill can be found HERE.