In 2000, Congress passed the United States’ first comprehensive anti-human trafficking legislation, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). Since then, this landmark legislation has been reauthorized seven times to expand the scope of protections and services available to survivors, increase the funding available to anti-trafficking programs, and enshrine more rights for survivors. The TVPA is the crucial guiding legislation for the United States anti-trafficking approach, and reauthorizing the law provides opportunities to improve programs serving survivors. A package of four bills was introduced during the 117th Congress to reauthorize the existing victim services programs and establish new protections for survivors. Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass the full package before the end of the session for the first time, leaving critical provisions out of the law. This was a historically disappointing result, as previous reauthorizations have been passed with overwhelming bipartisan, bicameral support.
Only sections of two bills, out of the four in the package, were passed: The Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022 and the Abolish Trafficking Reauthorization Act of 2022. Thankfully, these include a few key FNUSA priorities that will improve access to financial remedies and increase confidentiality protections for survivors.
The bills include:
- Confidentiality protections for human trafficking survivors who receive services from federal grantees. These mirror the protections established by the Violence Against Women Act to protect confidential information about survivors of domestic violence.
- An explicit prohibition on traffickers using bankruptcy to avoid paying survivors the restitution and damages that were awarded. This will make it easier and faster for survivors to get the money that is owed to them after their civil or criminal case ends.
- Confirmation that attempt and conspiracy are actionable under the TVPA’s civil remedy provision. There was some confusion in the law about whether survivors could sue some trafficking co-conspirators or traffickers that were interrupted in the act. It is now clear that survivors can also hold these would-be traffickers accountable for their actions.
While these bills provide some important protections for survivors, we remain troubled that Congress was unable to pass even a moderate bi-partisan package in good faith. FNUSA is concerned that members of Congress express support for trafficking victims but have failed to put in the work to pass legislation protecting survivors.
FNUSA will continue to advocate for comprehensive anti-human trafficking legislation that protects survivors and maintains critical programs. The TVPA is essential legislation and should be passed in full in the 118th Congress. We will advocate with members of Congress to ensure new legislation is introduced to finish the job and fill in the gaps left behind by the failure to pass over half of the package.