Congress must enact protections for sex-trafficking victims

By:  Editorial Board
Source: The Seattle Times

HELPING victims of human trafficking, some who have suffered rape and forced prostitution, put their lives back together requires providing them with a full range of reproductive services, including contraception and abortion.

That guidance ought to help move a U.S. Senate bill reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed by the Judiciary Committee last fall but stalled since by political wrangling over reproductive rights in the House. That is . The $130 million appropriation is smaller than previous spending levels, but it toughens enforcement and increases funding for victim assistance.

The Senate bill is a good one. It is far better than the effort in the House where misguided Republican modifications make it untenable. The House bill, for example, shifts financing for victims' services to the Justice Department from the Department of Health and Human Services. The latter agency is being punished by conservative Republicans for rejecting a $2.5 million grant request from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; the conference wants the money but refuses to refer trafficking victims to abortion providers and family planning services or make other reasonable accommodations.

Partnerships with a broad coalition of faith-based organizations, law enforcement and nonprofits are an integral part of fighting human trafficking and slavery. But victims need a level of service.

During the George W. Bush administration, Congress passed laws three times to fight human trafficking and slavery. Bipartisanship on an important issue has now given way to Republican obstructionism over reproductive services.

Reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act is delayed under similar politically dubious reasons.

Washington's two Democratic senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, are co-sponsors of the bills. Cantwell is working doggedly to move the Senate bill to the floor for a vote and drum up support for The Domestic Minors Sex Trafficking bill.

Republicans are missing the big picture with both bills. Efforts to combat human trafficking are working. A national trafficking hotline is helping law enforcement rescue victims and connect potential victims with services. Locally, Washington state is in the forefront of legislative and law enforcement efforts to combat sex and human trafficking and help victims regain their lives.

Congress must move swiftly on the Senate bill.