Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator John Cornyn Introduce the Abolish Trafficking Reauthorization Act of 2022 to Reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

National victim advocacy and youth justice organizations hail the inclusion of trauma-informed responses to youth crime as watershed moment for the country

New York, NY — (ReleaseWire) — 03/30/2022 — Today, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) announced the introduction of the Abolish Trafficking Reauthorization Act of 2022 which will reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017. The TVPA is a crucial piece of legislation that provides the legal framework for the U.S. to combat, monitor, and prosecute human trafficking crimes, and simultaneously addresses the way children who have experienced severe trauma are treated in the criminal legal system.Β 

“ECPAT-USA applauds the Senate for introducing the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act,” said Nina DeJonghe, Director of Public Policy at ECPAT-USA. “For over 20 years, the TVPA has helped protect vulnerable children and provide services for survivors of exploitation. Crucially, this bill includes provisions that will better prevent child trafficking victims from becoming trapped in the legal system. Far too often, the judicial system penalizes minors who have been exploited, without consideration given to the awful abuse they endured as a result of their trafficking. Treating children in a trauma-informed and age-appropriate manner is critical to both their psychological and physiological well-being.”

This version of the TVPA contains vital provisions that would reform current standards for child sex crime victims who are being prosecuted within the criminal justice system. It takes a meaningful step to addressing an abusive pipeline that traps children within the system, with no consideration given to the harmful, exploitative and life threatening circumstances they have endured. Under the legislation, courts would be allowed to deviate from harsh sentences for child sex trafficking and sex crime victims who commit serious offenses against their traffickers or abusers. It also requires judges to consider the diminished culpability of children relative to adult offenders any time a child is sentenced in adult court. Finally, this provision would end life without parole sentences for children prosecuted in the federal criminal legal system by creating judicial sentencing review after 20 years of incarceration.

Additional provisions in the bill include, but are not limited to:Β 

-Grants for human trafficking prevention and assistance for victims of trafficking;Β 

-Ensures protection and confidentiality for human trafficking survivors;Β 

-Bolsters the ability of state, local and tribal child welfare agencies to identify and respond to vulnerable children at-risk of trafficking;

-Exempts restitution for trafficking survivors from federal taxes.

“Rights4Girls applauds today’s introduction of the Abolish Human Trafficking Reauthorization Act – a bipartisan bill updating and strengthening our national response to human trafficking,” said Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls. We are especially grateful for the inclusion of language that allows trauma-informed sentencing for child trafficking survivors accused of harming their exploiters – a decisive step in dismantling the abuse-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms girls of color who have suffered violence. We thank Senators Cornyn and Klobuchar for their leadership and unwavering commitment to centering the rights and needs of survivors.”Β 

Research has shown that 73 percent of girls experienced physical or sexual abuse prior to becoming involved in the criminal legal system. Nearly one-third of girls in the juvenile justice system were sexually abused and nearly half experienced five or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Over the last 15 years, high-profile cases like those of Sara Kruzan, Chrystul Kizer, Cyntoia Brown, Patrice Smith, and Alexis Martin have brought into the public consciousness the additional human rights abuses that child trafficking victims face in the criminal legal system.Β 

Their trauma histories and the circumstances surrounding their offenses largely went ignored by the courts. Because of similar legislation in New York and California, Kruzan and Smith were released from prison, but not before serving lengthy prison terms. Unfortunately, it took an act of the Governor in Ohio and Tennessee to free Martin and Brown. Kizer is still fighting her unjust prosecution in Wisconsin.Β 

“For me, this bill is a recognition that the harm I experienced as a child was a moral wrong and that leaders on both sides of the political aisle are working to rectify that wrong, ” said survivor-leader Sara Kruzan. “If as a 16-year-old child I was treated with the empathy, compassion, and human kindness envisioned by this legislation I would not have endured nearly 20 years of unjust incarceration. This bill is about providing hope to other survivors in similar circumstances as mine and sending a clear statement that our justice system will no longer tolerate human rights abuses against child trafficking victims.”

“Children who have endured sexual abuse must be met with kindness and compassion, not additional trauma,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), who first introduced these policy changes in Congress. “Through this legislation, judges will have increased discretion in their sentencing of children who commit crimes against their abuser, allowing rehabilitation instead of a life in prison without the chance of parole as faced by those like Sara Kruzan. I look forward to supporting this legislation in the House and continuing to fight for the futures of these vulnerable children with my colleagues across the aisle.”

Beyond these particular cases, the failure to protect vulnerable children at every stage is system-wide and has resulted in an overly punitive response to children who come into conflict with the law often exacerbating the underlying traumas that lead children to commit crimes in the first place. The criminal legal system must be reformed to recognize that the overwhelming majority of children who commit crimes were previously victims of human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse, rape, familial/domestic violence, and other forms of community violence.Β 

“Sentencing children, the vast majority of whom have been victims of abuse, neglect, and human trafficking, to lengthy prison terms, including life imprisonment, has rendered the United States the largest abuser of children’s human rights in the world today,” said James Dold, CEO of Human Rights for Kids. “Conservative and liberal-leaning states alike are creating second look opportunities for all youth and giving judges greater discretion at sentencing to ensure that we treat children who come into conflict with the law in a trauma-informed and age-appropriate manner consistent with human rights norms. We are honored to stand with Senators Klobuchar and Cornyn, and our partners and allies in law enforcement in applauding the introduction of these long-overdue reforms.”

“As someone who joined a gang at age 11 in search of love, a sense of belonging, and safety, I cannot overstate how many broken people – particularly adults – told me that they cared for me, but clearly did not always have my best interests in mind. And yet, I would have done anything to retain their love and respect, a factor that played a big role in some of the most regrettable decisions and mistakes of my life,” says Xavier McElrath-Bey, Co-Executive Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “It is crucial for the federal government to recognize that no child is born bad, and just as the toxic combination of negative influences, trauma, and immaturity can manifest in poor and harmful behavior on the part of our children, so can positive influences, healing, and hope of a better future contribute to the wellbeing of our communities.”

These criminal justice reform measures on behalf of youth are supported by a broad coalition of victim and child advocacy groups, including: The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Boys Town, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Campaign Zero, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, ECPAT-USA, First Focus Campaign for Children, Human Rights for Kids, Human Rights Watch, the National Juvenile Justice Network, Rights 4 Girls, RISE for Youth, R Street Institute, Represent Justice, Karina Rising, the National Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Coalition, and World Without Exploitation.Β 

For more information on this press release visit: http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/senator-amy-klobuchar-and-senator-john-cornyn-introduce-the-abolish-trafficking-reauthorization-act-of-2022-to-reauthorize-the-trafficking-victims-protection-act-1355458.htm

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