In March, the latest iteration of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was finally reauthorized after a delay of many years. This comprehensive response to domestic violence, stalking and other gender-based crimes is an important vehicle to help reduce and prevent human trafficking, hold traffickers accountable and support survivors.
Among these is a provision that makes it a crime for federal law enforcement officers to engage in sexual contact with anyone in their custody. Unfortunately, situations like this are not uncommon. There have also been reported incidents of law enforcement engaging in sexual conduct with potential trafficking victims under the guise of investigating the potential trafficking situation.
The legislation also includes a mandated study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development specifically on the housing and service needs of survivors of sex and labor trafficking and those at risk for trafficking. Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline shows that housing instability is a key risk factor for trafficking and recognition of the role the government can play in preventing trafficking by providing housing services and supports is welcome news.
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While not specific to trafficking survivors, other provisions of the reauthorized law have the potential to improve the services and supports available to survivors of trafficking. For example, language in the legislation repeatedly stressed the importance of programs and services being culturally relevant and specific for victims.
Additionally, the bill makes funds available to help segments of the criminal justice system to take a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach to cases involving gender-based violence, such as creating protocols that keep a victim from having to testify in a criminal case. This is extremely important in many trafficking situations where the fear and trauma associated with testifying against a trafficker can make it difficult for justice to be served.
These are just a few of the important additions to the landmark Violence Against Women Act that could improve the ways victims and survivors are treated and supported in trafficking situations.