Urban Justice Center
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For Immediate Release:Contact:Sienna Baskin (646) 602-5695 sbaskin@urbanjustice.org
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sex Workers Project to Congress: 'JVTA is a Step Backwards in the Fight Against Trafficking'

Legislation prioritizes law enforcement over victims' needs

(New York City, May 26, 2015) - The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center released the following statement today after the United States House of Representatives passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA). The legislation was recently passed unanimously by the United States Senate.

"It is disappointing to see that most of the provisions of this bill will do little to mitigate the harm of human trafficking," said Sienna Baskin, Director of the Sex Workers Project. "The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act prioritizes the needs of law enforcement over the needs of minors in the sex trade and victims of human trafficking."

The misnamed "Victim-Centered" grant program created by the JTVA will mostly fund law enforcement salaries, prosecutor salaries, investigations, and judicial supervision and control of children. The JTVA also redefines "human trafficker" to include those who purchase commercial sex from youth and people who are being trafficked – despite the fact that there is no evidence that prosecuting customers as traffickers reduces human trafficking.

Another provision establishes the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) program, to train wounded, ill and injured veterans to investigate crimes involving child sexual exploitation. While our returning vets are entitled to jobs, there is no evidence to show they are particularly suited to this role. The very few provisions in the JVTA that actually address the needs of survivors are overshadowed by this emphasis on criminalization.

It has been widely documented that the most common reason minors engage in sex work in the United States is because they are homeless, failed by the youth protection system, or need income to survive. Law enforcement has a role to play, but focusing all resources on prosecuting traffickers will do nothing to help youth who have no trafficker or whose issues are poverty and lack of a safe home. Yet youth organizations struggle to find support for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which would do vastly more to prevent young people from engaging in commercial sex by meeting their actual needs.

Anti-trafficking work needs to center on the needs of victims and at-risk communities. Hyper-criminalization of the sex trade is not a best practice in anti-trafficking efforts; it leads to more police abuse, violence, and health risks for sex workers and survivors. As direct service providers to the exact population this bill is intended to serve, the Sex Workers Project is disappointed that the needs of victims and youth fall so far down on the list of priorities. We need do need pivotal steps in the anti-trafficking movement, away from this over-emphasis on criminalization and towards prevention of the conditions that make youth and adults vulnerable to trafficking. The JTVA falls short.

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center provides client-centered legal and social services to individuals who engage in sex work, regardless of whether they do so by choice, circumstance, or coercion. One of the first programs in the nation to assist survivors of human trafficking, the Sex Workers Project has pioneered an approach to service grounded in human rights, harm reduction and in the real life experiences of our clients. Their professional service providers are multi-lingual, non-judgmental and bring more than ten years of experience. As the only US organization meeting the needs of both sex workers and trafficking victims, the Sex Workers Project serves a marginalized community that few others reach. SWP engages in policy and media advocacy, community education and human rights documentation, working to create a world that is safe for sex workers and where human trafficking does not exist.