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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why the Trafficking Victims Support Act of 2009, S2925, Needs Revised Before Supporting

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has introduced in the Senate S2925, the ‘‘Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2009,’’ “to establish a grant program to benefit victims of sex trafficking, and for other purposes.” It is likely you will be asked to sign a letter of support for this legislation if you haven’t already.

Since we are partners, we wanted to let you know our thoughts about this bill. Senator Wyden's efforts to increase funding for anti-trafficking work should be applauded. But we have asked an attorney who is a national expert on legislative matters to look at the bill. He has concluded that without some changes in the bill, there is no guarantee that any of these funds will go to grass-roots groups like yours, which do the lion's share of the work.

Here are the questions we must ask in evaluating any piece of legislation:

1. Will this bill help identify victims across the United States in substantially greater numbers ?

2. Will it get assistance into the hands of those organizations which are on the street every night, rescuing and aiding victims – namely, the victim assistance organizations which make up most of the Triple S Network (Stop Sex Slavery)?

The heart of the bill is the authorization of 6 “block grants” to eligible entities in the amount of $2,500,000 per year for a period of up to three years. Please note that the “eligible entities” are states or units of local government - not NGOs like yours. However, 25% of each award ($625,000 per year) must go toward the provision of shelter and services to victims of sex trafficking; 10% of each award ($250,000 per year) must go to an organization with an annual budget of $750,000 or less, to provide services to victims or training.

What might the result of this grant program be? Imagine this possible outcome: grants are awarded to the city of Baltimore MD, the State of Illinois, the city of Tampa FL, the State of Arizona, the city of Portland OR, and the city of Honolulu HI. In each of these sites, only one organization will receive a subgrant to provide services to victims. Is this substantially different from the current DOJ (Department of Justice) Task Force grants? Yes; instead of 30+ task forces there will be just 6 grants. Do these grantees have any significant incentive to find victims? No, the award is unrelated to performance as measured by victims rescued. How many victim service agencies will receive funding? Best case scenario, 6.

We believe this bill can be substantially improved by taking one of the six multi - million dollar grants proposed and creating a grant program solely for grass- roots victim-centered service providers, and we will be encouraging an amendment in this direction. We hope you will lend your support to our effort as we advocate for a more just grant-making program that will get funds directly to those already doing the work on the ground in all of our states. Remember this is why we formed Triple S in the first place. We are more powerful if we speak as one voice.

With all best wishes,

Laura Lederer and Steven Wagner

Laura J. Lederer, J.D.
President, Global Centurion
Adjunct Professor, Georgetown Law Center
www.globalcenturion.org

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Dr. Laura Lederer is an adviser for Beauty From Ashes and we are a member of the Triple S Network. Please do not support this bill until it is revised. Thank you.

Julie Shematz

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Let your voice be heard bill by visiting the open congress website: HERE

1 comment:

  1. ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project, Shared Hope Intl and GEMSFebruary 25, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    Dear Advocates:

    We’d like to address some of the concerns voiced here, because we have asked other organizations to sign on to national letters of support for S.2925.

    S. 2925 creates 6 large grants to go to state or local government entities in jurisdictions that have a multi-disciplinary plan to address sex trafficking of minors and the demand for commercial sex. The plan requirement would help ensure that non-governmental (NGO) service providers would benefit from the grant funding in locations where the juvenile and/or child protection infrastructure and law enforcement are working with expert service providers – like those in the Triple-S network. Governments that are not working with service providers would be less likely to demonstrate a comprehensive, victim-centered approach and therefore would likely NOT be highly qualified for the grant. Also, to address concerns about funding for services, we and others have proposed 2 things to the likely House sponsors of this legislation: (1) increase the minimum funding for shelter and services from 25% to 50%; and (2) ensure that NGOs would receive a significant portion of those funds. Without speaking for the Reps who have yet to introduce legislation in the House, our understanding is that they are very open to the first suggestion and they are considering the best way to approach the second.

    On accountability, like any federal disbursement, the grantees would be required to report on objective measures developed by DOJ. In discussions with DOJ representatives, it seems clear that grantees would be required to report the numbers of victims served and prosecutions. The bill also authorizes an evaluation so that lessons learned could be applied elsewhere and unsuccessful programs might be terminated.

    While the approach proposed by Dr. Lederer – reserving 1 of the 6 grants strictly for NGOs – would guarantee that a portion of the funds went to NGOs, this would not remedy the problem in all locations. We believe that the multi-disciplinary approach proposed by this bill is ideal to ensure that first responders are working with service providers. As we all know, without prosecutions and deterrence, service providers may be simply removing one victim from the trafficker’s clutches only to make way for another. Likewise, effective law enforcement entities have recognized that they are unable to address the problem without services providers to care for the victims and to mobilize the public.

    Sen. Wyden conceived of this bill primarily in response to advocacy from his Oregon constituents, and he should be commended for his commitment at a time when Congress is disinclined to consider spending. In order to succeed, he needs our support now. We hope advocates can voice support for the bill’s broad approach while also providing expertise to help fine-tune the language. The House bill currently represents the greatest opportunity for including revisions, since it has yet to be introduced. As outlined above, we have been pursuing this strategy after receiving important input from more than 100 people that participated in the open-invitation conference call held on Feb. 11, and those that we have spoken with subsequently.

    Finally, apart from Dr. Lederer’s posting, we have heard of rumors circulating that the ultimate grantees have been pre-selected. There is no support for this rumor. S.2925 sets up a competitive grant process through DOJ, and funding would not begin until, at best, FY2012.

    Meanwhile, your help is needed to show Congress *now* that this approach has national support. We hope you will consider signing on to the national letter, educating your Senators and asking them to co-sponsor.

    Please contact any one of us to discuss, or ksliney@polarisproject.org to sign on.

    Sincerely,

    Christine Fantacone, ECPAT-USA (cfantacone@ecpatusa.org)
    Karen Stauss, Polaris Project (kstauss@polarisproject.org)
    Samantha Vardaman, Shared Hope International (Samantha@sharedhope.org)
    Rachel Lloyd, GEMS (Rachel@gems-girls.org)

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