As the Senate moves to a final vote on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), today 93 Senators endorsed an amendment to combat human trafficking. While opposing human trafficking is a fairly non-controversial subject, five far-right Republicans broke with the majority of their own caucus and opposed the bipartisan amendment.
The amendment, authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), strengthens VAWA by reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The measure helps law enforcement investigative human trafficking and supports international efforts to stop the practice. Leahy noted that on the anniversary of President Lincoln’s birth, “we continue to fight human trafficking, which can amount to modern day slavery,” making the amendment a fitting tribute. “The United States remains a beacon of hope for so many who face human rights abuses. We know that young women and girls – often just 11, 12, or 13 years old – are being bought and sold. We know that workers are being held and forced into labor against their will. People in this country and millions around the world are counting on us.”
The amendment was opposed by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), James Inhofe (R-OK), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Prior to his time in the Senate, Johnson famously opposed the bipartisan Wisconsin Child Victims Act, a bill to extend the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse crimes. His objection was that it would be bad for business if employers who help cover up the crime could be “severely damaged, possibly destroyed, in a legitimate desire for justice.”
Leahy said of the the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:
This measure strengthens criminal anti-trafficking statutes to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to effectively combat all forms of trafficking. It ensures better coordination among federal agencies, between law enforcement and victim service providers, and with foreign countries to work on every facet of this complicated problem. It includes measures to encourage victims to come forward and report this terrible crime, which leads to more prosecutions and help for more victims. We have included accountability measures to ensure that Federal funds are used for their intended purposes, and we have streamlined programs to focus scarce resources on the approaches that have been the most successful. A Senator asserted yesterday that trafficking programs have been wasteful and duplicative. In fact, the programs supported by this amendment have been carefully tracked and shown to be effective. Nonetheless, the amendment reduces authorization levels by almost a third from the levels in the last reauthorization because we are determined to ensure efficiency and respond to concerns. We have made similar efforts to streamline VAWA.
The offices of the five Senators were not immediately available to respond to questions about their rationales for opposing the amendment.