WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to enhance the Department of Homeland Security’s ability combat human trafficking has advanced in the Senate. The legislation would make permanent and expand the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Victim Assistance Program that helps provide support to individuals impacted by human trafficking. The bill would also make permanent an existing program that ensures the wellbeing of HSI employees and partners who are exposed to repeated stress and associated trauma through their work to support victims and investigate these horrific crimes. The legislation was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair and Portman serves as Ranking Member. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
“Victims of human trafficking and the law enforcement professionals who investigate these crimes often struggle to cope with trauma. That is why we must provide increased resources to help victims recover and ensure dedicated employees at the Department of Homeland Security can continue fighting back against human traffickers,” said Senator Peters. “This bill will help provide a path for recovery for those who are impacted by human trafficking, as well as support dedicated professionals who are charged with investigating these crimes and helping people recover from them.”
“Human trafficking should not be happening in Ohio, the United States, or anywhere in the world in this day and age. I’m pleased the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has passed this bipartisan bill to ensure victims of trafficking and the law enforcement personnel who help them receive the resources and support they need,” said Senator Portman. “As founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, I will continue to work to ensure that no more women or children become victims of this terrible crime.”
Thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked in the United States. According to DHS, traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Based on calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Polaris Project found that in 2019 there were at least 14,597 sex trafficking victims and survivors in the United States. However, the actual number of these crimes may be much larger because these crimes often go unreported. The senators’ legislation will provide increased resources and support to these victims, as well as HSI employees and partners who work to bring them recovery, stabilization, and justice.
The IMPACTT Human Trafficking Act would make permanent the Investigators Maintain Purposeful Awareness to Combat Trafficking Trauma (IMPACTT) program within HSI that provides outreach and training to investigators, forensic interviewers, victim assistance specialists, task force officers, and other partners who have been exposed to trauma while working with victims of human trafficking. The legislation would require HSI to provide training, through the program, to these employees on available resources to help cope with burnout, compassion fatigue, and trauma. The bill also makes permanent and expands the HSI Victim Assistance Program that provides guidance on victim assistance, including training and technical assistance, and monitors compliance with federal crime victim statutes. The bill increases the number of Victim Assistant Specialists to ensure every office participating in a human trafficking or child exploitation task force will have an assigned Victim Assistant Specialist. The legislation also ensures that victims are provided with referrals for support services throughout the investigative and prosecutorial process.
Peters and Portman’s legislation to increase coordination between Department of Homeland Security components and the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness effort designed to educate law enforcement and the public to recognize human trafficking, was signed into law as a part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. The senators’ legislation to make permanent and strengthen DHS’ Center for Countering Human Trafficking has passed the Senate.