One unfortunate and under-addressed aspect of human trafficking is the use of drugs by traffickers to control and exploit vulnerable populations. Data shows that drug use and human trafficking are intrinsically connected and, in the midst of the current opioid epidemic, we are seeing criminals across the country use this connection to their advantage.
That is why the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is endorsing the new Protecting Rights of Those Exploited by Coercive Trafficking (PROTECT) Act of 2019. This piece of legislation amends the 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.
Why the PROTECT Act of 2019 is So Important
The bill, which is being sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), was introduced this week and is also sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). According to the language of the bill itself, it seeks to “amend chapter 77 of title 18, United States Code, to clarify that using drugs or illegal substances to cause a person to engage in a commercial sex act constitutes coercion and using drugs or illegal substances to provide or obtain the labor or services of a person constitutes forced labor.”
This addition to the United States Code is important because the 2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report from the Human Trafficking Institute found that 36.2% of the active sex trafficking cases involved a defendant using addictive substances to control their victims. In addition, 50% of identified trafficking survivors in E.R.s were born in the U.S. and have an opioid addiction.
A Survivor-Informed Approach to Legislation
The PROTECT Act utilizes a survivor-informed approach to prevent further criminalization of trafficking victims. Because many victims of trafficking are often forced to commit crimes by virtue of their victimization, the bill includes a defense to protect covered victims of trafficking from prosecution. In any law that deals with sex trafficking or prostitution, it is important to include language that absolves the victims of the crimes they may have committed during their time in the commercial sex industry.
Over and over the movement to end sexual exploitation has seen the major impact survivor voices can have, so the survivor-informed approach of this bill makes it even more important and worthy of support.
Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Global Summit Attendees Prompted Progress
In June 2019 the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation held its annual Global Summit in the Washington, DC area. At the Summit over a hundred attendees participated in the “Day on the Hill” event and helped canvass every Congressional office on Capitol Hill. They were able to talk to lawmakers about important legislative issues pertaining to sexual exploitation–including the PROTECT Act! Thanks in part to the dedicated advocates who walked all over Capitol Hill to talk about ending sexual exploitation, this new bill is being introduced to help America do just that! We are so grateful for every person who has used their voice to speak up and fight for human dignity and we are encouraged to see so much good happen as a result.
If you would like to get involved and make your voice heard, we would love to have you join us next year for the 2020 Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation Global Summit! Tickets are on sale here.
Take Action to Support the PROTECT Act of 2019
To help push this legislation forward, you can get in touch with your senators to encourage them to support this bill.
The easiest way to do this is by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. Tell your senators to contact [email protected] and/or [email protected] in Senator Sherrod Brown’s office if they would like to co-sponsor the bill.Thank you, @SenSherrodBrown, for introducing the PROTECT Act of 2019 and thank you, Sens. @amyklobuchar, @JohnCornyn, @SenBlumenthal, @SenThomTillis and @SenFeinstein, for sponsoring this effort to protect victims of human trafficking! #EndExploitation Click To Tweet