In January we mark National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month – a reminder that modern-day slavery is all too real, and it’s happening in our own backyards. And tragically, the addiction crisis is also giving human traffickers another tool to use to exploit victims.
Traffickers often exploit drug addiction, or expose victims to drugs for the first time, to control or force victims into prostitution and other forced labor. These crimes are already heinous enough – fanning the flames of a drug addiction only makes victims’ trauma worse, and makes it that much harder for them to recover.
That’s why I led a bipartisan group of my colleagues to introduce the PROTECT Act. Our bill would fight the use of drugs in human trafficking and protect vulnerable victims.
Our legislation would provide enhanced measures for law enforcement officers who are working every day to bring these criminals to justice, by making clear that the use of drugs or illegal substances to force someone to engage in a commercial sex act or forced labor is a form of coercion.
The bill would also provide new protection for victims. Traffickers often coerce their victims into committing crimes – our legislation will protect those victims from prosecution, so that law enforcement can focus on the real criminals perpetrating these crimes, and victims can focus on their recovery.
This bill has support across the political spectrum, and we have the endorsement of law enforcement organizations and trafficking victims’ advocacy groups. In December, we were able to secure new funding in the year-end package the president signed to expand research into human trafficking victims and perpetrators.
We need to continue that bipartisan momentum, and get law enforcement the authority they need to bring traffickers to justice.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Ohio.