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Rep. Chris Smith highlights bipartisan bill on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

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In recognition of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11, a New Jersey congressman is calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan piece of legislation intended to combat what his office calls “modern-day slavery.”

“Human traffickers have benefitted from a culture of denial and a lack of awareness throughout our communities,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said in a Jan. 11 press release. “Education and awareness programs — especially and including those provided by local grassroots organizations — are the victim’s best friend and the trafficker’s worst nightmare and go a long way toward preventing this heinous crime in the first place.”

That is why he and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) authored the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2021 (H.R. 5150)­­­, first introduced in September.

According to Smith, the act would provide “approximately $1.6 billion over five years to strengthen and expand education, awareness and other critical programs that protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and prevent trafficking.”

At the time of its introduction, the legislation named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass was already endorsed by 17 anti-trafficking organizations and coalitions, Essence magazine reported. Ken Morris, the great-great-great-grandson of Douglass, spoke at the initial press conference and coordinated with lawmakers.

“I have the great privilege of being descended from one of America’s best-known abolitionists,” Morris, who serves as president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, said, Essence reported. “But I didn’t inherit an understanding of contemporary forms of slavery. That’s why our knowledge of these crimes — and the institutional support to stop them — must continue to expand. This bill will do that.”

Smith has sponsored anti-human legislation trafficking in the past, such as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This newer piece of legislation proposes to continue and add to the 2000 law.

“We cannot let our guard down,” Smith added in his press release. “We must continue to do everything we can to stop predators from harming the most vulnerable and innocent among us.”

The U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as a “crime of exploitation” where “traffickers profit at the expense of their victims by compelling them to perform labor or to engage in commercial sex in every region of the United States and around the world.” It cites an “estimated 24.9 million victims worldwide at any given time.”

In an effort to fight human trafficking, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosts an Anti-Trafficking Program to “educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against fundamental dignity of the human person, to advocate for an end to modern day slavery, to provide training and technical assistance on this issue, and to support survivors through community based services.”

According to the USCCB, “an estimated 17,000 vulnerable men, women and children are trafficked across our borders and then forced into slavery” every year.

“Some people are trafficked for prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sexual exploitation. Some are trafficked for forced labor in agriculture, sweat shops, and domestic servitude,” the USCCB says. “In both cases the person who is enslaved is treated as an object for another’s benefit. The person’s God-given human dignity is either ignored or forgotten.”


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