WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call today as he reintroduced his bipartisan legislation to crack down on addiction-driven human trafficking. Brown’s bill, 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. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is cosponsoring the legislation. Brown was joined today by Central Ohioan Dr. Marlene Carson, a human trafficking survivor and Founder of The Switch, a national anti-human trafficking network that provides training and education to schools and communities to better respond to the needs of victims of trafficking, including the early identification of at-risk children.

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.”

“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.”

“The use of drugs is another way to keep victims trapped in their exploitation with no way out,” said Dr. Marlene Carson, CEO and Founder of The Switch. “Addiction is a vicious cycle and when used as a tool in human trafficking, it leads victims on a ongoing battle to regain their life back. The PROTECT Act is a law that will not only help victims reclaim their lives by recognizing their victimization of addiction but will hold the true perpetrators accountable, while providing victims a pathway to recovery and healing.”

Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are also sponsoring the PROTECT Act.

Brown first introduced the 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: 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, Covenant House, National District Attorneys Association, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, The Switch, 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, Trafficking in America Task Force. 

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.