Let me explain.
(Note: I’ll use the word “victim” in this post, since that’s consistent with the wording used in the bill in question. Generally, at Courtney’s House, we prefer the word “survivor” even for people who haven’t gotten out of their trafficking situations yet. It’s more empowering.)
What’s the holdup? Isn’t everyone pretty unanimously against sex trafficking?
Yes, thankfully, they are. The holdup is this: a provision was added that applies the Hyde Amendment restrictions to the funding collected for victims by the other parts of the JVTA. That means that the funding can’t be used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the life of the mother. It’s the same amendment that has gotten Dems and Repubs in an uproar many times in the last 40 years because of that magic word, “abortion.”
Since that happened, the passage of the JVTA has stalled.
Why is that a big deal?
For a few reasons:
1: It ties into the whole debate over whether abortion should be legal in the first place. Obviously, this is a major sticking point in American politics.
2: The purpose of the Hyde Amendment is to prevent taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions. BUT, what most people don’t realize is, this actually doesn’t apply here. The JVTA wouldn’t be using taxpayer funds at all. The money that would be given to victims would come from fines paid by the offenders. That is, they’re not taxpayer funds, they’re TRAFFICKER funds. And isn’t there a little poetic justice about traffickers’ ill-gained dough helping their victims recover?
3: This whole debate gets into the question of do victims of sex trafficking need abortions? And the answer to that is: sometimes. But whether they do or don’t, they should have the same freedom of choice that the rest of us have. And choice is something victims of trafficking have been denied in every area of their lives already. Let’s not federally mandate that they can’t have it back.
4: The rest of the JVTA could seriously help some people. It allocates funds for domestic victims of trafficking, which was lacking before. It holds both buyers and traffickers culpable, which is a big step in decreasing demand for sexual exploitation. It also mandates training for law enforcement, first responders, etc., so the people interacting with victims would be better able to recognize them as victims and link them to the appropriate care. This is good, much-needed stuff! And it’s all being held up because of the abortion debate.
Why don’t they just pass it with the amendment because it makes an exception for rape and we all know that sex trafficking = rape?
Great question. The thing is that victims would still have to jump through some hoops to get that exemption. As it is, rape victims have to go through a lengthy process on the state level to get an exemption. In some states, that means showing a police report or a doctor’s note. Sometimes higher officials need to be involved, even all the way up to the state governor. Sometimes it’s practically impossible to get it at all, and some states refuse to even recognize the exemption in the first place. (More about the difficulties of proving the rape exemption can be found here.)
So ultimately, even if we could get federal law to acknowledge that sex trafficking victims are rape victims (which would take a lot), they’d still have to go through another process of proving that they are victims of sex trafficking, and that’s a gigantic boondoggle. It’s better just to remove the Hyde Amendment language in the first place.
What does Courtney’s House think?
Courtney’s House wants victims to have access to all the medical care they need, and we don’t think it’s for us to judge what their needs are. But also – and perhaps even more importantly – we want victims of trafficking to have options. They haven’t had much control over anything in their lives, from their own bodies to whom they have sex with (and how often, and in what way) to their eating habits* to when they can go to the bathroom. Traffickers have taken away their choices. Passing the JVTA without the Hyde Amendment language would give victims the support and the choices they need to recover.
Whatever your opinion is about abortion, this is a bill about trafficking. It helps domestic victims in ways that should have been made into law long ago. Abortion is another issue – let’s secure the rights of victims first.
*Yes, traffickers often withhold food as a control mechanism. You read that right.
What can I do?
Contact your Senator’s office and urge them to push for the Hyde amendment language to be removed from the JVTA.
Tell your friends! There's a lot of confusion and mistaken info going around on this topic. Awareness is key.
For more info on this, check out this article by survivor Holly Austin Smith (author of Walking Prey).
Director of Operations