While an endeavor to reauthorize a longtime human trafficking law appears stalled in Congress, pregnancy help organizations continue to serve trafficking survivors.
H.R. 6552, known as the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act, was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on February 1, 2022, by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-NJ. The last action reported on this bill originally passed in 2000 took place on February 9, when an order for reporting by voice vote came from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, this despite co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
Survivor advocate organizations and lawmakers are urging action, by Congress, individuals, and other organizations, to move the bill forward and make it law.
H.R. 6552 would reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), allotting one billion dollars to further protection for trafficking victims, help prevent trafficking, and prosecute those responsible for the crime. Co-sponsors include Karen Bass (D-CA), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Doris Matsu (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), and Joe Wilson (R-SC).
The original enactment of the TVPA equipped the federal government with tools and resources needed to establish a framework to combat human trafficking through a comprehensive and coordinated response internationally and domestically. The legislation provided essential protections for victims, authorized funds for enforcement tools, and gave additional funds for survivor services.
Every five years, the TVPA goes through reauthorization. The law expired in 2021.
Awareness and action
Safe House Project, an anti-trafficking organization, hosted an online briefing in March on the bill. The event featured staff from Safe House, including Bill Woolf, Safe House policy director and former director of Human Trafficking Programs for the U.S. Department of Justice, trafficking survivor Tanya Gould, and representatives from two congressional co-sponsors of H.R. 6552.
“This bill is truly critical,” Woolf said, “and the funding is vital (for survivors). We need to make sure they have the services they deserve.”
“We’ve accomplished so much, (but) we still have so much work to do,” said Gould, a survivor leader. “We have so much to do on the prevention side of trafficking.”
That’s especially true when it comes to minors, she added.
“Traffickers don’t discriminate,” said Tomekah Burl, representative for Congresswoman Bass. “People who are the most vulnerable."
“We must step up our efforts” to combat human trafficking and help survivors, noted Mary Vigil, representative for Congressman Smith.
Housing is a crucial component for survivors and a critical element in the re-authorization act. Safe houses around the country, including the newly-established Bakita Mountain Home in Colorado Springs, Colo., strive to integrate survivors into society. Trauma-informed care and counseling, job training, learning to budget, and other services and programs provide survivors with confidence, courage, and skills needed to direct their new life path.
The Safe House Project panel gave a call to action: for individuals and members of organizations, such as pregnancy centers, to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to move the bill out of committee and before the full Congress and to vote in favor of the measure.
“We need to become that voice others don’t have,” Burl said.
“Our voices are important,” Woolf added. “Let your representative know this bill is important.”
Child and online trafficking on the rise
Safe House Project exists to combat human trafficking, in particular child sex trafficking, generating greater awareness about this blight and providing emergency help and housing for survivors.
Exploitation and trafficking of children seems to be on the rise, with prevalence not limited to large cities.
A human trafficking workshop held in Casper, Wyoming, in early April highlighted statistics and cases in the least-populated state in the nation.
The number of cyber tips rose significantly in Wyoming during the past two years, said Chris McDonald, special agent with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children task force and a speaker at the Casper workshop.
In 2020, 531 tips came in compared with 262 the previous year. In 2021 more than 615 tips were received, and from January through March of this year, DCI received 240 tips.
“The problem is large,” McDonald said.
Traffickers prey upon youth through apps such as SnapChat and Tik Tok, and through gaming sites. These predators often groom their victims through feigned understanding of their problems and by offering insincere compliments to lull teens and pre-teens into exploitation, he said. Sadly, trafficked victims are also often exploited by family members; his office has investigated multiple cases of such situations, he said.
According to the Safe House Project, 40% of trafficked children are sold by a family member.
Incidents of online pornography and trafficked sex acts increased during the coronavirus pandemic, said Terri Markham of Uprising, a trafficking awareness organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, who also spoke at the Casper workshop.
During the March online event hosted by the Safe House Project, Vigil, the representative for Congressman Smith, also noted how the pandemic was exploited for trafficking.
“We saw a spike in online grooming and trafficking (during COVID),” she said.
“Reports of human trafficking were most notable in 2020 for their consistency,” according to the Polaris Project, an organization that tracks incidents of human trafficking across the globe and monitors a hotline. “Or, to put it another way, human trafficking appears to be pandemic-proof. That is one of three major categories of findings in Polaris’s analysis of data gathered over the calendar year 2020 from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.”
The number of incidents reported to the national hotline in that year totaled more than 10,500, and the number of victims totaled more than 16,600. The organization believes the actual number of incidents and victims are much higher. Escort services, pornography, and illicit massage parlors were the top three types of trafficking incidents reported that year.
Sex trafficking and abortion
Sex trafficked women and girls are also often the victims of coerced abortion.
An article published by the Family Resource Council cites studies of trafficked victims who were also victims of forced abortion. One study cited in the article found 66 trafficked women had a total of 114 abortions.
Some trafficked women and girls find their way to pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) for pregnancy tests and/or STD tests.
Tweet This: Some trafficked women come to pregnancy help organizations for pregnancy/STD tests. The orgs assist these women in their everyday work.
PRCs throughout the U.S. and other countries can be a critical component in the fight against human trafficking as well as play a major role in helping victims. In some examples, centers in New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states have seen sex trafficking victims come through their doors.
Many pregnancy help organizations assist human trafficking survivors or work to raise awareness of it through varying levels of programming simply by doing the work they do every day. Often the work must remain under the radar to be safe, effective, and successful.
Cry Freedom Missions (CFM), a branch of Wayne Pregnancy Center in Goldsboro, N.C., fights sex trafficking by rescuing victims, providing them a safe house and a also boutique where they sell items they’ve made. CFM leadership is involved in law enforcement stings at the state and federal levels, and assists survivors in the justice system, while also providing training and consultation across the country. They presented to a packed workshop at the recent Heartbeat International Annual Pregnancy Help Conference in Jacksonville.
Knowing places of safety for these women and how to connect them with organizations such as Safe House Project, Rescue America and A-21, allows PRCs to play the pivotal role that they do in the rescue and redemption of trafficking victims. Support for H.R. 6552 may give PRCs added resources to help trafficked victims become survivors.
Lend a voice to fight trafficking
To learn more about the measure click HERE.
Heartbeat International, the world’s largest network of pregnancy help organizations, including pregnancy help centers and medical clinics, non-profit adoption agencies, and maternity homes, has trained hundreds of individuals from pregnancy help organizations from across the globe on human trafficking over the last few years. Heartbeat launched the first course on how to identify and assist trafficking victims specifically designed for pregnancy help organizations in 2018 through its on-line Academy. The course is available HERE.
View the online event hosted by Safe House Project HERE.
Editor’s note: Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News.