Senate Should Fund Anti-Trafficking Measures
Most of the U.S. government’s efforts to fight human trafficking come down to one thing: funding. While there are numerous programs dedicated to providing services to trafficking victims and bolstering law enforcement and prosecutions against traffickers, if they don’t have funding, there’s only so much they can accomplish. It’s up to Congress to make sure these offices are adequately resourced.
Most traffickers operate with relative impunity. The State Department’s most recent annual Trafficking in Persons report states that fewer than 9,500 human trafficking cases were prosecuted worldwide in 2013, resulting in less than 6,000 reported convictions. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 21 million slaves globally. It is essential we continue to invest in victim services, but we must also significantly increase the risks to traffickers so that every victim rescued is not merely replaced with a new victim.
The Department of Justice coordinates its anti-trafficking efforts through the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which funds victim services related to prosecutions and task forces, and the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU), which streamlines human trafficking investigations and prosecutions by centralizing legal expertise on these cases.
But the House appropriations committee in charge of funding these efforts recently cut the fiscal year 2016 budget for OJP’s anti-trafficking programs by 40 percent.
Thanks to the leadership of Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), the House of Representatives voted to restore funding to last year’s level of $42.3 million in the final version of the appropriations bill that passed earlier this week.
This funding supports victim services and collaborative task forces across the country. These task forces proactively investigate potential trafficking cases by coordinating federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement along with victim advocates. Trafficking cases are extremely complex and a comprehensive approach is the best way to ensure convictions.
Unfortunately, funding for the HTPU has been static at $5.3 million since 2010—despite a 56 percent increase in cases. This critical office needs additional resources to keep pace with a quickly growing criminal enterprise.
When the Senate Appropriations Committee takes up their spending bill next week, they should match the House’s level of $42.3 million for the OJP programs. We also urge the Senate to increase funding for the HTPU to $6.5 million, a small 23 percent increase for an office that’s increased their workload by 56 percent.
We must put exploiters out of business and bring them to justice. Failing to reverse the risk-reward equation for all enablers within human trafficking networks will dampen any efforts to stop this illicit industry. Funding these critical programs is essential to disrupting the business of modern day slavery.