Legislation Would Also Ensure Wellbeing of DHS Employees Working to Investigate Human Trafficking Crimes
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), James Lankford (R-OK), and John Cornyn (R-TX) to enhance the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to 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 improve and 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. U.S. Representatives David Joyce (R-OH-14) and Dina Titus (D-NV-01) are leading companion legislation in the House. The bill was advanced by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee where Peters serves as Chair, and now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
“The federal government must support victims of human trafficking, as well as the professionals who work each and every day to stop these crimes,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will ensure we can help victims of human trafficking crimes recover, and provide Homeland Security Investigations agents, victim assistance specialists, and others with the tools and resources they need to disrupt human trafficking organizations and protect victims.”
“Human trafficking along our southern border is at an all-time high, and the problem is only getting worse. Battling cartels, abuse, and trauma, human trafficking survivors have been through enough. It’s critical that survivors – along with the professionals helping them – have access to the resources they need to get the justice and closure they deserve. This bipartisan effort will make that a reality and continue the work to end human trafficking,” said Senator Lankford.
“Supporting survivors of human trafficking should be our highest priority when investigating these horrific crimes, and that includes making sure they have specially trained staff alongside them as they seek justice,” said Senator Cornyn. “Our bill would provide additional support for human trafficking survivors and the professionals dedicated to helping them rebuild their lives, and I’m grateful to Chairman Peters and Senator Lankford for their partnership on this issue.”
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 2020 there were at least 16,658 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.