Congresswoman Karen Bass Leads Passage of “Put Trafficking Victims First Act

On February 7, 2019, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), lead the passage of the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act”, which ensures that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed. The bill was approved by a vote of 414-1. Watch her remarks below:

REMARKS AS PREPARED:

I introduced H.R. 507, the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act,” with my colleague the gentlelady from Missouri, Ms. Wagner.

Ann, thank you for your hard work over the years on this important legislation.  We are here today because of your dedication and willingness to work, in a bipartisan manner, to address the problems faced by victims of trafficking. We both recognize that Congress must do more to combat this heinous crime.

HR 507 is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Second, this legislation addresses the tremendous need for expanded victim services, improved data-gathering on the prevalence and trends in human trafficking, and effective mechanisms to identify and work with victims in an effective and respectful manner.

It directs the Attorney General to form a broadly-representative working group to assess the status of the collection of data on human trafficking and recommend best practices, conduct a survey of survivors regarding the provision of services to them, as well as prepare a report to Congress on Federal efforts to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking, the effectiveness of current policies addressing victim needs, and analyzing the demographic characteristics of trafficking victims and recommendations on how to address their unique vulnerabilities.

The bill also directs the Attorney General to implement a pilot project testing the methodologies identified by the working group and requires the Attorney General to report on efforts to increase restitution to victims of human trafficking.

With this type of information in hand, Congress can provide appropriate oversight of efforts to combat human trafficking, and researchers, advocates, and law enforcement agencies will all have a shared resource as they continue to develop innovative approaches to stop traffickers.

Finally, the bill expresses the sense of Congress that States should implement trauma-informed, victim-centered care for all trafficking victims.

Forced labor and human trafficking are among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises. Globally, these inhumane practices generate an estimated $150 billion a year in profit.  That’s three times the amount that the top Fortune 500 company made in 2016.  Criminals are profiting from the systematic abuse of vulnerable people around the globe. Sadly, women and girls represent approximately 71% of these victims.

The U.S. State Department estimates that between 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into our country from other nations every year. These victims are part of the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of trafficking, currently living within our communities.

My home state of California has the 9th largest economy in the world. It is also one of the nation’s top four destinations for human traffickers, especially for child sex trafficking.  In 2018, of the 5,000 reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 760 of them were from California.

As the Founder of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I am very aware of the risk to vulnerable youth. Foster youth, along with runaways and homeless youth are at the highest risk of being sex trafficked.   Experts agree that the foster care system is yielding a disproportionate number of human trafficking victims.  Nearly 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system.  We cannot allow this to continue.

Washington, DC is home to the most powerful government in the world. Yet, even in DC, women, and girls are being trafficked.

Organizations like Courtney’s House are working to improve the outcomes for sex trafficking survivors

Tina Frudt, Director of Courtney’s House (right here in DC), asserts that African American and Latino communities are not immune to human trafficking. Her organization provides trauma informed services to sex trafficking survivors between the ages of 12 and 19.

Tina is also a child sex trafficking survivor.  As a 9 year old in foster care, she was sex trafficked.  By the time Tina turned 14, she became one of the 2 million children who run away from home each year. Nearly 200,000 of them will be sex trafficked.

In Tina’s case, her adult abuser was more than twice her age and forced her to become a child sex worker. It took her years to escape.  Now, Tina helps children, like her recent client, a 12-year-old girl, whose 25 year-old abuser called himself her “boyfriend” rather than her trafficker.

H.R. 507 will improve the implementation of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.  Trafficking victims, like the girls at Courtney’s House, face many challenges even after they are freed from trafficking rings, ranging from access to social services and utilizing assistance programs.  Survivors face difficulties navigating social services and assistance programs.

What’s more, survivors may face criminal charges, possibly even convictions for prostitution, loitering, or indecent exposure.  The threat of prosecution may lead trafficking victims to avoid contacting law enforcement for help, even as they face horrific trauma on a daily basis.

This bill is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Another component of H.R. 507 encourages law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to make every attempt to determine whether an individual has been a victim of human trafficking before charging them with offenses that are a result of their victimization.  This is of particular concern to communities of color. According to the FBI, African American children made up 57% of all juvenile prostitution arrest.

In Los Angeles, we changed how children were treated. Today, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution, which means children are no longer being placed in handcuffs when it’s the adults who are abusing them who are the real criminals.  There is no such thing as a child prostitute. I strongly support efforts to recognize children as victims rather than criminals.   In this bill, we encourage treating victims as victims and providing them with the necessary supports.

I am reminded of a case in Tennessee that has been in the news recently, involving Cyntoia Brown.

Cyntoia was only 16 years old when she was abducted by a drug trafficking ring, repeatedly drugged and raped, and sold to a child predator for sex.  In a moment of desperation, she fought back against her trafficker and killed him.  She, the victim, ended up with a life sentence.  Mercifully, Cyntoia was granted clemency last month, by the Governor of Tennessee after having served 15 years—for defending herself.   Victims of these horrific acts, like Cyntoia, should not have to hope for grants of clemency 15 years later.

Although much of the focus of human trafficking is on those who have been sex trafficked, those who have been trafficked for domestic labor should not be overlooked. There was a story a few years ago in The Atlantic entitled “My Family’s Slave.”  The author shared an intimate account of the life of a Filipina woman who for years was forced to work for a family as a domestic laborer in the U.S. from dusk till dawn.  An estimated 21 million men, women, and children are forced into labor around the world.  There are cases all across the United States.  We are working towards eliminating human trafficking in the United States.

Mr. Speaker, Congress’ intent is clear:  Protecting victims from the heinous crime of human trafficking is of utmost concern.  I am proud to have worked across the aisle with Congresswoman Wagner on this important legislation, and I urge our colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 507 supports efforts to stop human trafficking.   We are making progress in protecting those who have been caught up in this horrific criminal activity, and this bill is a great example of what we can accomplish when we focus on helping the most vulnerable among us.

We have an obligation not only to end human trafficking but to support people who undergo horrific experiences like these.  This bill is yet another step in the right direction.

Once again, I would like to especially thank Congresswoman Wagner, for her efforts in this regard.  I was very pleased to team up with her again on this legislation and hope we can continue to work on these issues in the future.

For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill today.

100 Former Foster Youth Visit Members of Congress to Advocate for Child Welfare Reform

Before the foster youth shadows met their Members of Congress, they gathered as a group for training with the FosterClub. Photo Credit: Congressional Foster Youth Caucus

Each May, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth introduces a resolution to recognize May as National Foster Care Month. Last year the resolution was cosponsored by more than 130 Members of Congress. In addition to re-introducing this important resolution to call attention and raise awareness about this issue, the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth will be hosting a range of events in May, including a panel on May 23rd to discuss kinship placement and navigator programs which will also be streamed on Facebook Live.

The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI, www.nfyi.org) is gearing up once again to bring over 100 current and former foster youth, selected from a nationwide pool of applicants to Washington D.C. for a week of leadership training sessions, workshops on activism, and legislative meetings, culminating in an opportunity to spend a day “shadowing” their individual Congress members. Shadow Day attendees, some as young as 18, have all spent time in the foster care system and will share their experiences, while advocating for reforms in the child welfare system, both in their district and nationwide.

NFYI creates the Shadow Day Program each year, in partnership with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, providing a forum for members of Congress to discuss and develop policy recommendations which strengthen the child welfare system and improve the overall well-being of youth and families. Co-chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth brings together over 100 Members of Congress to discuss the challenges facing all foster youth and develop bipartisan policy initiatives.

NFYI’s Shadow Day Program has trained a corps of foster youth alumni across the nation who have developed chapters in their home districts and partnered with local leaders and organizations to educate policymakers to addresses chronic problems within the national, state, and local child welfare systems.

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA, 37th), during Shadow Day 2017, stated that government essentially becomes “the parents” when it puts children in foster care, and then “washes our hands of them” once they turn 18.

“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, then the government is really responsible because when we remove children from their parents, we — meaning the government — become the parents, we are responsible for them,” Bass said on the House floor. “So, we’re working on legislation to improve that.”

No one knows more about the pitfalls of our nation’s child welfare system than those who grew up in it. These young people are coming to D.C. to share their stories both – their challenges with abuse, trafficking, overmedication, or homelessness – and their successes with mentorship, adoption, family reunification, community activism and independent living. The goal is to help Congress understand how to improve the child welfare system.

“National Foster Care Month is a month to honor the successes and challenges of the more than 400,000 foster youth across the country and to acknowledge the tireless efforts of those who work to improve outcomes for children in the child welfare system. Making sure that all children have a permanent and loving home is not a Democrat or Republican issue—it should be an American priority. This May, we come together to celebrate the experiences of the youth who are in, or have been in, the child welfare system and raise awareness about their needs.” – Bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth

Rep. Bass Introduces The Foster Youth Mentoring Act

On June 23, 2017, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to authorize funding to support mentoring programs that have a proven track record in serving foster youth. Rep. Bass serves as a Co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, which is a bipartisan group of lawmakers dedicated to improving the country’s child welfare system.

“It is critical that we raise awareness about the unique challenges young people in the system face,” Bass said. “In all of my years working in child welfare, meeting thousands of children either in or out of care, we’ve heard their voices clearly: They want a consistent source of advice and support–someone that will be there when it matters most and for all the moments in between. Many people think of mentors as something supplementary. But for these kids, sometimes it’s all they have. I’ve introduced this piece of legislation to not only showcase the importance of modernizing the child welfare system but also to raise awareness about this important national issue. There are kids in every congressional district that would benefit from this bill’s passage.”

“Youth in foster care face enough challenges. Having a consistent caring adult in their lives shouldn’t be one of them,” said MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership’s CEO David Shapiro. “Mentors offer much-needed stability and support academic achievement, professional and social-emotional development, and provide the kind of individual attention often not possible through the child welfare system.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act would expand urgently needed access to this critical asset for so many more young people in need. Closing this support and opportunity gap for youth in foster care through evidence-based relationships can help reverse the negative outcomes we see far too frequently for these young people compared to their peers. MENTOR thanks Representative Bass for her tremendous leadership in working to improve outcomes for these young people and elevating the personal stories of foster youth to a national level through her work in Congress.”

Read their joint op-ed in the Huffington Post about the importance of mentorship here.

Bill Summary

The bill connects youth in foster care with adult volunteer mentors by providing support for mentoring programs for foster youth. The bill would:

  • Authorize funding to provide support to mentoring programs that serve foster youth. Programs would be eligible to receive funds to support the expansion of their services to more youth in foster care and to improve services for current foster youth in their programs.
  • Ensures that mentoring programs participating in the grant program are currently engaged or developing quality mentoring standards to ensure best practices in the screening of volunteers, matching process and successful mentoring relationships.
  • Provide intensive training to adult volunteers who serve as mentors to foster youth to assure that they are competent in understanding child development, family dynamics, the child welfare system and other relevant systems that affect foster youth.
  • Increase coordination between mentoring programs and statewide child welfare systems by supporting the expansion of mentoring services for foster youth.

The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to address the need for greater support of mentoring programs that serve youth in foster care.  Foster youth face challenges as they navigate growing up often without the support of a consistent caring adult. The Foster Youth Mentoring Act seeks to fill that gap to provide foster youth with the social capital, resources, and support they need to develop positive relationships and connections.

More Than 100 Foster Youth Attend Shadow Day Program On Capitol Hill

Congresswoman Karen Bass speaking to Foster Youth Representatives on Capitol Hill

On May 24th, 2017, in honor of National Foster Youth Awareness Month, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth (CCFY) hosted more than 100 current and former foster youth from across the country as part of the 6th Annual Foster Youth Shadow. Every year, the event allows youth to share their experiences in foster care directly with members of Congress to help inform and improve child welfare policy. This year’s group came from more than 36 states including Hawaii and Alaska.

The National Foster Youth Institute (NFYI) brought more than 100 foster youth and alumni from across the country to Capitol Hill to meet with Members of Congress for the 6th Annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day Program. The program, hosted by the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth, brings young people who have left the foster care system to Washington, D.C. for a three-day trip that pairs them with their Members of Congress from their home districts. The half-day spent shadowing their Member of Congress allows foster youth the opportunity to connect face-to-face with their home representative, get a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process, and allow their voices to be heard on the issues impacting the foster care system.

“Our youth have been given the unique opportunity to participate in activities celebrating foster youth with those who have the power and influence to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those in the system,”said Lilla Weinberger, executive director of NFYI.  “What better way for a member of Congress to understand the issues impacting the child welfare system than hearing personal stories from those most impacted. We thank the members for their willingness to participate in an honest and open discussion with foster youth and alumni, and look forward to next year’s Shadow Day program and proud to partner with the members of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus On Foster Youth for this meaningful programs.”

Rep. Bass was shadowed by three former foster youth; Leo Jimenez, Doniesha Thomas, and Michael Rogalski, all of whom who have spent time in at least 7 housing placements. In 21 years of care, Leo spent time in 22 housing placements. This fall, Leo is graduating from West Los Angeles College and starting at New York University.

“Any time a foster youth falls through the cracks, the government is really the one responsible,” Rep. Bass said. “When we remove children from their parents, it’s the government that becomes the parents. What can we do better? What are the tangible solutions? That’s what this event is about. We had over 100 youth from all over the country speaking to over Members of Congress representing over 90 different congressional districts. Especially in a time marred by partisanship, what can bring this country together are our children. We can come together and work to raise foster youth voices.”

“We have someone that is advocating for us that hasn’t been in our shoes, but is willing to take off her shoes and put herself in our shoes to know our needs, our wants and she’s very involved in our future,” Jimenez said. “She’s given me a voice.”

Also, Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) paired up with Ally Alvarez, a twenty-three year-old young woman from Sun Valley. Ally is a student at Los Angeles Valley College and spent seventeen years in the foster care system, and she accompanied the Congressman throughout the day to get a behind-the-scenes look at the House of Representatives. Ally is interested in policy-making and participates in a variety of organizations at school.

There are more than 400,000 youth in the foster care system at any given time. With the support from Casey Family Programs, this NFYI program is an all-expenses paid program. Youth spend 5 days in Washington learning about community organizing, the legislative process and how to make their stories and voices heard. Youth participants are empowered to use his or her voice to build a national movement that will fight for a stronger child welfare system that meets the needs of all foster youth and their families.

This year, select youth from previous Shadow Days were invited back to act as group leaders and the program hopes to continue to grow and develop leadership corps around the country.  Youth are encouraged to maintain contact with their members of Congress and their staffs to keep the dialogue around child welfare and potential recommendations.

Rep. Bass did an interview a few years ago to help bring awareness to this great program. Learn more about Foster Youth Shadow Day by viewing their video.

Bring Back Our Girls: Human Trafficking Must End

@FLOTUS/Michelle Obama
@FLOTUS/Michelle Obama

It is critically important that social workers remain at the forefront of preventing the abuse and exploitation of children and adults. The exploitation of humans both nationally and internationally must be brought to an end immediately. Recently, approximately 230 Nigerian girls were abducted from school by a militant group in hopes of selling the children as a form of human trafficking.

According to the Guardian,

After Nigerian protestors marched on parliament in the capital Abuja calling for action on April 30, people in cities around the world have followed suit and organised their own marches.

A social media campaign under the hashtag #Bringbackourgirls started trending in Nigeria two weeks ago and has now been tweeted more than one million times. It was first used on April 23 at the opening ceremony for a UNESCO event honouring the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital City. A Nigerian lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, tweeted the call in a speech by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Vice President of the World Bank for Africa to “Bring Back the Girls!”  Read Full Article

Across our nation, it is estimated that since 1999, approximately 800,000 have been reported as missing. Children in our very own system are being preyed upon by sex traffickers. The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) will continue to work in partnership with governmental organizations and agencies and Congress to protect children and families in the United States and on a global basis.We must continue to monitor and support legislation introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) – H.R. 1732 Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act, and Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – H.R. 3905

We must continue to monitor and support legislation introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37) – H.R. 1732Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act,  and Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH-3) – H.R. 3905Improving the Response to Missing Children and Victims of Child Sex Trafficking Bill. In addition, let’s continue to linking up with fellow social workers around the world to combat human trafficking through various Departments of Social Services,CNN’s Freedom Project, and organizations such as Half the SkySave the Children, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Social workers are fighters for social justice. Let’s continue to ring the alarm and end human trafficking.

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