Today we recognize National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, an occasion to highlight a modern form of slavery that, through force, fraud, and coercion, compels millions of people in the United States and abroad into exploitative labor and commercial sex. One year ago today I helped introduce the bipartisan, bicameral Trafficking Survivors Relief Act to give survivors an opportunity to have non-violent federal crimes, incurred as a direct result of being trafficked, vacated from their record. Despite its bipartisan support, our bill has stalled in committee and has yet to receive a vote. Trafficking survivors deserve a greater effort to pass this legislation.
We owe a vote on the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act to the survivors who have fallen through the cracks of society, who were not protected from being trafficked and who are now caught in the vise grip of a criminal justice system that punishes survivors instead of providing a path to rebuild their lives. These survivors, an overwhelming majority of whom are women and children, are forced to commit crimes such as conspiracy, money laundering, and drug trafficking as a direct result of being trafficked themselves. I have spoken to girls as young as fourteen years old who have been pursued in Hawai’i malls, targeted for abduction by predators who force their victims to commit crimes. They must have a viable path to shed the chains of their past and move forward with their lives, to find jobs, housing, and security after the worst trauma of their lives. If Congress fails to pass the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act, these survivors will be subjected to further exploitation, trafficking, trauma, and recidivism.
In Hawai’i, our bill has the full support of Ho’ola Na Pua and the Pacific Gateway Center, two organizations engaging in the work each day of helping trafficking survivors return to freedom and empower their life recovery.
We have an opportunity to help survivors, but only if there is outspoken public support for action on our bill.
Take action for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and become a citizen cosponsor of H.R. 459, the Trafficking Survivors Relief Act.
Protecting the most vulnerable in our society is one of the most important duties of public service. Mahalo for bringing awareness to this critical issue today.
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