Trafficking Victims Protection Act
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is arguably the most important anti-trafficking law ever passed. The TVPA, and its reauthorizations in 2003, 2005, and 2008 define a human trafficking victim as a person induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion. Any person under age 18 who performs a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion was present. The TVPA enhances pre-existing criminal penalties in other related laws, affords new protections to trafficking victims and makes available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking once they become certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under this law, one option that has become available to some victims who assist in the prosecution of their traffickers is the “T-Visa” that allows the victim to remain in the United States.
One important feature of the TVPA’s conceptualization of trafficking is that physical transport from one locale to another is not a requirement. Another is that the law addresses the subtle means of coercion used by traffickers to control victims, including: psychological coercion, trickery, and the seizure of documents, activities which were difficult to prosecute under preexisting involuntary servitude statutes and case law.
The TVPA seeks to combat trafficking by promoting a policy of “3 Ps”: prosecution, protection, and prevention:
- Prosecution involves passing the appropriate laws that criminalize trafficking, and jailing the abusers who exploit other humans for profit.
- Protection involves identifying victims, providing them with medical care and shelter (and if necessary witness protection), and, when appropriate, repatriating them.
- Prevention involves raising awareness of the inhumane practices involved in the trafficking trade and promoting a paradigm shift that seeks to reduce the demand for the “fruits” of human trafficking.
The United States government reports that since 2001 only 1,168 foreign nationals have been granted a T-visa available to victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons. In contrast, the United States government estimates that between 14,500-17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. This discrepancy clearly indicates a U.S. failure to implement the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) effectively enough to identify and protect all those who are trafficked into the United States. The low numbers of victims identified can be attributed to many different obstacles in implementation. One important obstacle is a lack of access to necessary legal services.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts of 2005 and 2008 required the Department of Labor to compile and publish a list of products produced by child labor or forced labor, and the countries where these abuses were prevalent. The first report was finally released in 2009: The Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
The State Department is tasked with evaluating the efforts of foreign governments to combat human trafficking by ranking them every year and placing countries in one of four categories. Tier 1 countries are those that meet the TVPA’s minimum standards of fighting human trafficking. Tier 2 countries are those states that, while not fully complying with the TVPA’s minimum standards, are making significant efforts to comply. Tier 2 Watch List countries are Tier 2 countries with significant trafficking problems and/or a slippage in their most recent efforts. Tier 3 countries are those that not only do not meet TVPA minimum standards, but also are failing to do much to combat trafficking. In the latest report, out of the 173 states assessed, only 28 merited Tier 1 status. Most countries (76) earned a Tier 2 rating. The remaining 69 nations were placed either on the Tier 2 Watch List (52) or Tier 3 (17).
Journal of Gender, Social Policy & The Law [Vol,19:4]
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