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Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act

Bill Number: S-178

Public Law Number: 114-22

Disposition: 2015-May-29
Enacted - Signed by the President

Once the president signs a bill, it becomes a law.

Full title...
A bill to provide justice for the victims of trafficking

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Bill Text (Reading difficulty: Moderate)

Sponsor & Key Contributors
John Cornyn

How does this bill fight human trafficking?

This bill would enhance enforcement of human trafficking laws and provide support to victims. Some of what it would do includes...

o Provide money for both enforcement and prosecution of those who exploit others

o Anyone convicted of human trafficking would be subject to an additional $5,000 fine. The money would go into a Domestic Trafficking Victims' Fund, that would be used to pay for enforcement and to provide services for victims.

o Create the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps, which would train returning veterans to investigate child exploitation.

o Provide a "safe harbor" provision, under which minors who commit prostitution or other non-violent crimes would be treated as victims, rather than criminals.

o Create a Council on Human Trafficking - comprised of up to 14 trafficking victims that would advise policymakers.

o Require more extensive reporting from agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

The bill ignores domestic servitude

Some aspects of the bill could be subject to controversy and negotiation. It addresses sexual exploitation only - ignoring other human trafficking problems such as slave or coerced labor - in the U.S. and by U.S. military contractors overseas.

And it's severe. Someone who solicits sex from someone who was forced or coerced would be treated the same as a trafficker - even if they thought the victim was willing.

The bill was held up over abortion restrictions

Although the merits of the bill had overwhelming support in Congress, it was held up for more than a month over a clause that would prevent any money received under this new program from being used for abortions - even those pregnancies that result from the coerced sex the law is intended to prevent. And those using the program's services would likely be those who are least able to afford them.

The bill doesn't mention abortion specifically. Rather, it refers to a clause known as the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal tax money from being used to pay for abortions.

The clause has been used in appropriation bills since 1976. There are two differences, however, with this bill versus previous bills...

o The amendment previously has been used in 1-year appropriations bills, meaning that it must be negotiated and renewed each year. In this case, it would last for the life of the new law.

o The money would not come from federal taxes, but rather from fines - making this the first such restriction on money not appropriated by the federal government.

Senate Democrats filibustered the bill - refusing to allow it to be voted on as long as it contained the abortion restriction.

Compromise still may prevent abortion funding

Various attempts were made to break the gridlock. None were effectively compromises, as Republicans refused to allow the bill to pass without the Hyde Amendment restrictions, and Democrats refused to end their filibuster of it as long as fines (not tax money) was subject to abortion restrictions.

Under one proposed "compromise", money from the fines would be transferred into the country's General Fund, and the same amount of money from the fund would be used to pay for health services for victims. The amount of money going to victims would be the same, and the restrictions on abortion would remain in place. The difference would be merely an accounting one - so that the Hyde Amendment could apply to those federal funds.

The "compromise" ultimately accepted also involved nothing more than an accounting gimmick. Money from the fines would not be used for health services - thus making Republicans willing to remove the Hyde Amendment restrictions on that fund. Health care services would be paid for with other money allocated to the bill. Though that money would restrict abortions, Democrats were willing to accept it because it kept to the principle of the Hyde Amendment being for taxpayer money only.

For trafficking victims - those the bill is intended to help - the approved version of the bill has essentially the exact same effect as the original one that was held up. It is important to note however, that many victims are expected to be able to receive abortions, as their pregnancies likely will have been caused by rape.

After a long delay the bill became law

Despite being held up for a month, the bill passed the Senate on April 23, 2015 with a vote of 99-0. Sen. Ted Cruz was not present to vote.

The House of Representatives passed the Senate's version on May 19, 2015. President Obama signed it into law on May 29, 2015.

More information

You can find more details about this bill at

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