Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Bill Is Flawed

by Steven Wagner

It comes as no surprise that the New York Times is eager for the Congress to pass a Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorization. The appropriation to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is one of the pots of money identified by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her campaign of backdoor funding to Planned Parenthood.

But rather than rush to pass a bill, why not take the time to get it right?

The federal campaign against human trafficking in the U.S. is not, contrary to what the New York Times opined, going well. The “new” trafficking hotline which the Times praises was started in 2004 — this is the best evidence they can find of progress against the horror of trafficking?

Twelve of every 13 victims of human trafficking in the U.S. are American kids caught up in commercial sexual exploitation, not victims from other countries. Yet none of the money appropriated by Congress to HHS or the Department of Justice under the trafficking program can be used to serve American victims — only victims from other countries. The draft reauthorization bills do not address this absurd inequity.

The draft reauthorizations contain a provision for a new grant program which will insure dedicated funds flow to privileged “big dogs” in the anti-trafficking movement, but will do nothing to support the many smaller organizations which are actually on the front lines of victim identification, rescue, and service.

But you can lay the delay in the reauthorization of the federal anti-trafficking program squarely on the desk of HHS Secretary Sebelius. She is the one who destroyed the bipartisan consensus which existed on this issue. She did so by cavalierly ending a contract to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops through which any organization in the country serving a victim of trafficking could obtain financial support, because she wanted victims of human trafficking to get referred for abortions to Planned Parenthood and other entities.

The problem here is that victims of human trafficking cannot, by definition, provide informed consent to an abortion. When a victim is still in the condition of being trafficked, the only beneficiary of this abortion referral is the trafficker. This new Sebelius policy is profoundly injurious to victims, and until the reauthorization bills craft a remedy, do not expect the bills to move.

 — Steven Wagner is president of the Renewal Forum. He was director of the HHS human-trafficking program from 2003–2006. 

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