With a budget resolution dominating Senate time this week and a two-week recess starting Thursday, the battle over human trafficking legislation is likely on hold until mid-April, and with it a vote on Loretta Lynch's nomination for attorney general. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to block a vote on Lynch until the "Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act" (JVTA) was passed, but partisan disagreement over abortion funding prevented that from happening.
Two weeks ago, the bill had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans and was expected to pass easily. But it was stalled when Democrats noticed that language concerning the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding from going toward abortion, had been inserted. Democrats contended that Republicans did this last minute; Republicans said the language was there all along. Democrats said the language must go, Republicans said it must stay, and both sides mostly refused to budge. Now here we are.
Liberal and conservative media have both lampooned lawmakers for letting another abortion fight trump "justice for victims" (a Jon Stewart video to this effect was widely shared). Politicians have attempted to spin it to their advantage. Everyone's indignant. But gridlock may be the best we can hope for with this bill. The JVTA is packed with little to actually aid trafficking victims and lots to expand law enforcement power, including in ways totally unrelated to trafficking. [See this previous post of mine for more on the bill's specifics.]
At least a few in the media have begun to dig a little deeper into this bill, talking to activists working on the front-line of anti-trafficking efforts and researching trafficking stats themselves rather than repeating the claims of legislators and law-enforcement. Everyone should read Emily Crockett's excellent, in-depth piece at RH Reality Check, which explores how the bill "focuses too much on criminalization and too little on the needs of survivors." Jay Michaelson's recent Daily Beast article is another good primer on where the Senate trafficking bill goes wrong. Michaelson examines how existing initiatives that claim to target sex-trafficking are frequently used to go after prostitution more generally.
Earlier this month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights criticized the United States for routinely arresting and jailing sex-trafficked minors for prostitution. Neither the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act nor state "safe habor laws" would put a stop to this. The best they do is allow victims to use being trafficked as an affirmative defense to prostitution charges or evade criminal charges by completing mandatory counseling and rehabilitation programs.