U.S. President Signs Debt Bondage Repair Act Into Law

Last year, Representative McHenry of South Carolina introduced the Debt Bondage Repair Act (DBRA) in the House and Senator Cornyn of Texas introduced the companion bill in the Senate. Both bills received overwhelming bipartisan support for the way the bill would increase opportunities for trafficking survivors to achieve financial freedom. 

After passage in Congress, this bill was incorporated into the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As a major victory for survivors of exploitation, the 2022 NDAA was passed and signed into law by the President of the United States on December 27, 2021.

From its inception to subsequent passage, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) eagerly supported this legislation, centering the voices of survivors and lived experience experts.

Critical survivor testimony given in a Congressional Hearing led to the creation of the DBRA. The testimony was given by Dr. Marian Hatcher, member of NCOSE’s Advisory Council, after assistance from members of the NCOSE team.

After the introduction of the DBRA, NCOSE supported its passage via a digital advocacy campaign, enabling supporters to directly contact members of Congress in support. These grassroots efforts provided necessary support to gain its passage.

Why the Debt Bondage Repair Act? 

Debt bondage is a major component of both labor and sex trafficking. Beyond the primary harms of sexual exploitation many victims experience, they are also often enslaved by debt and exploited financially in ways that unfairly follow them throughout their lives. 

As Rev. Dr. Marian Hatcher—who helped inspire the bill—says, “the DBRA provides survivors an opportunity for financial independence and stability that can help end the cycle of exploitation.”

In the United States, financial well-being depends on having good credit. The DBRA allows survivors to truly thrive and overcome economic barriers, by being able to build good credit, seek housing and other important purchases, and even obtain better employment because their credit record is an accurate reflection of who they are now, and not of how they were exploited in the past. 

As we discussed here, being saddled with debt and bad credit can be an insurmountable burden. The pain of this burden is compounded when the bad credit arises from being trafficked. Not only is it unfair for the survivor to be held responsible for the debt, but it can interfere with their ability to move forward in life.

Opening Doors for Survivors and Next Steps

The DBRA was passed in the Senate and House with bipartisan support, then eventually incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA was passed and signed into law by the President of the United States on December 27, 2021. 

The passage of the non-defense section of the 2022 NDAA, which includes the DBRA, means that trafficking survivors will now have more opportunities not just to survive but to truly thrive—with the ability to rebuild their lives by ending the reporting of adverse credit information that occurred when they were being exploited. 

In the words of Representative McHenry, this law “will help victims regain their financial freedom and begin to rebuild their lives.” 

Dr. Marian Hatcher reflects: 

“It is a bittersweet accomplishment as the devastation of the remaining mountains of long-term consequences of exploitation, weigh heavily on the backs of victims/survivors and to be frank, my mind. 

. . . It is an excellent time to take stock of the challenges that lie ahead and the issues that have remained hidden but need our attention. Looking ahead, I am excited to see how the DBRA will impact survivor’s lives, even as I recognize that this is just part of the work that remains to be done to ensure the long term needs of survivors get the attention they need.” 

You can read more of Dr. Hatcher’s thoughts here

To see current legislation the National Center on Sexual Exploitation endorses, click here.

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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