WASHINGTON D.C. — President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) earlier this spring, restoring an important U.S. tool for fighting human trafficking and modern slavery. After failing to pass for over a year TVPA eventually passed as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). An estimated 27 million people worldwide are living as modern-day slaves. Human trafficking and slavery are among the most lucrative criminal enterprises.
TVPA is widely seen as an emblem of the United States’ commitment to fighting modern-day slavery and trafficking around the world. The law includes several crucial elements:
- Renewal of important federal anti-trafficking programs;
- New tools for prosecutors to use in going after traffickers;
- Resources to help provide specialized services for human trafficking survivors; and
- Commitments to pursue new partnerships with other countries to fight trafficking and modern-day slavery.
TVPA has been reauthorized every two to four years since it was originally passed in 2000. Global attention to issues of human trafficking and bondage have increased in recent years. The focus in the U.S. has also shifted to acknowledge and work to combat trafficking here in the U.S. as well. Smooth passage of the TVPA when it initially expired was held up by Republican opposition to the Obama administration’s insistence that the act include provisions requiring contractors under the act to provide victims with reproductive health services.
The act expired in 2011 and for over a year Congress failed to move on the legislation. In February Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) added TVPA as an amendment to the renewal of the the reauthorization of VAWA (a law that strengthened protections for victims of domestic violence). The move was seen as a risky one at the time, because the Republican-led House initially blocked VAWA’s renewal over objections to elements of the bill that extended protections to immigrant, gay and American Indian domestic violence and sexual assault victims. The gambit paid off when VAWA was passed with the TVPA amendment attached. Obama eventually signed the reauthorization after Senate Democrats did drop some of the provisions they originally wanted in VAWA and House opposition to the bill dried up.
Obama has put himself at the forefront of conversations over how to fight trafficking and slavery, and pushed for the U.S. to increase its role as well. In a long speech last September before the Clinton Global Initiative, Obama said slavery and trafficking were intimately related to development and to helping women and girls around the world. The issue, “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery,” he said.
Obama went on to say that the TVPA sparked a “global movement” when it was signed by President Clinton and the movement was advanced when President Bush renewed the legislation. At a recent White House forum on fighting human trafficking Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration has also moved the ball forward. Kerry said the administration has ramped up both investigations and prosecutions of trafficking cases; increased diplomatic engagement around the world around the issue; developed a new plan to provide survivors with the necessary services and assistance; and pushed new innovations to help strengthen the tools used to respond to trafficking and slavery, including a significant focus on using technology.
– Liza Casabona
Sources: White House, State Department, ATEST,
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