The U.S. law addressing the crime of Sex Trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act 0f 2000, is about to expire and must be reauthorized by Congress.

On December 4, the House did something remarkable. It overwhelmingly passed HR 3887 which not only extends the TVPA, but greatly improves it. The trafficking issue now moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

NOMAS is joining many feminist and other groups in strongly urging the Senate to pass this bill. The bill is titled the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2007,” to reflect the similarities of modern-day sexual slavery with the earlier enslavement of black Africans.

A joint letter to the Judiciary Committee co-signed by NOMAS also noted that African-Americans and Latinos are the persons most victimized by domestic traffickers, who exploit and harm those who are most vulnerable: “young people of color, often immigrants, often children, almost always women, almost always poor.” The 2000 bill was valuable and important, but it was the result of a compromise, and had major flaws. “Sex trafficking” was defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” But, a second category, termed “Severe Sex Trafficking”, was much more narrowly limited, to the few acts that could actually be proved in court to have been performed by “force, fraud, or coercion”, or by a minor. And all legal penalties were limited to the “severe” category. This has meant that very few trafficking prosecutions have been possible.

Proving “force, fraud, or coercion” in a court setting is practically impossible, even when it has certainly occurred, as the trafficking victims are so often terrified, traumatized, vulnerable, in poverty, and far from home. Many have children or family for whose lives they must fear. Few if any victims can take the stand and testify at length about their sexual abuse, try to ‘prove’ what was said or done to them, and undergo a brutal, humiliating cross-examination. And this coercion-focus totally ignores all the complexities of poverty, economic desperation and “consent”.

The new revised bill will treat proof of force, fraud, or coercion, or the use of minors, as grounds for enhanced punishment, but not as the sole basis for convictions. It will ensure that all persons convicted of sex trafficking will receive significant sentences. Incorporating and up-dating the earlier Mann Act, originally called the White Slave Traffic Act, the new bill will make it a felony to engage in trafficking or other unlawful commercial sex activities while “being in or affecting” interstate or foreign commerce.

In other significant provisions, the bill will:

– treat international and domestic trafficking as interconnected, recognizing that we cannot reduce international trafficking if we fail to combat our own trafficking slavery;

– expand penalties and support the prosecution of “sex tourism” providers;

– enhance the ability of trafficking victims to seek civil restitution awards from their traffickers;

– ease the ability to prove the sexual abuse of children, by reversing the practice of some courts of requiring that traffickers be “affirmatively proven” to have knowledge of a victim’s minor status;

– reverse, and take action to overcome the harm done, by one of the little-noted betrayals of women, children, and the anti-trafficking movement by the Bush administration: a supposedly “Model” state law issued by the Bush Justice Department, that limited trafficking only to cases provably by “force, fraud, or coercion” (making convictions impossible,) even where broader and better state anti-trafficking laws already existed.

A new Model will now be written and issued. The House of Representatives is to be commended for its reauthorization bill, HR 3778, which makes thoughtful improvements on the earlier trafficking bill, and could begin to seriously impact the horrific and growing industry of sex trafficking. NOMAS calls on the Senate to speedily pass this bill, and the President to sign it into law.

NOMAS support for the House bill, HR 3887, was announced on December 22 in New York by Dr. Robert Brannon, Chair of the NOMAS National Task Group on Pornography and Prostitution.