The House Takes on Sex Trafficking – Last Week In Congress
Back from their district work period, the U.S. House of Representatives hit the ground running with the intent to address sex trafficking in a meaningful way. By last Tuesday, two bills to help save victims of trafficking were passed; but both approached the issue in different ways.
H.R. 767 – SOAR to Health and Wellness Act of 2018
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
The Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond to Health and Wellness Act of 2017 or the SOAR to Health and Wellness Act of 2017 passed the House last week.
The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a new government program called SOAR. What will SOAR do?
The program will train health care providers and others who may come into contact with trafficking victims in these crucial areas:
- identification of potential human trafficking victims,
- working with law enforcement to report and facilitate communication with such victims,
- refering victims to social or victims service agencies or organizations,
- providing such victims with coordinated care tailored to their circumstances, and
- considerong integrating this training with existing training programs.
The SOAR program will be funded through 2022 if the Senate passes the legislation, sending it to the President’s desk for signing.
H.R. 1865 – Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017
Sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO)
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (no it doesn’t have a cool short-name) also passed the House last week.
This bill makes changes to a part of the Communications Act of 1934 known as section 230. Section 230 was added to the Communications Act to protect websites from being prosecuted for offensive material or conduct that websites users engage in, post, or share.
Granted, lawmakers couldn’t have predicted that websites like Backpage and Craigslist would exist or that they would be nesting grounds for traffickers. But in this legislation the House is attempting to undo there past wrong.
The bill instructs law enforcement and prosecutors that the Communications Act was “not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and contribute to sex trafficking.”
The bill also makes it a Federal crime for anyone to promote or facilitate prostitution of another person across state and international borders. It will impose a fine, prison term of 10 years, or both.
But in the case that a person is promoting the prostitution of five or more people, or contributing sex trafficking by acting with “reckless disregard, the prison term is increased to 25 years.
The bill allows for the the defense to argue that prostitution is legal in the jurisdiction that they were in… Nevada — and it tells states to not let the Communications Act stop them from going after sites, traffickers and clients that traffick people online, especially related to child sex trafficking.