March 06, 2015

S. 178 – The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act


Background: S. 178 was introduced in the Senate on January 13, 2015. A hearing was held on the legislation on February 24; and the bill reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with amendment by a vote of 19-0-1 on February 26. The House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 181 on January 27, 2015.

Floor Situation: The Senate is expected to proceed to S. 178 next week. 

Executive Summary: S. 178 authorizes services to victims of human trafficking and sets up a fund to cover the costs of the programs it authorizes – paid for by a $5,000 special penalty assessment for convicted sex offenders, human smugglers and human traffickers. With those funds, S. 178 supplements federal resources available for human trafficking victim support. The bill strengthens law enforcement tools for prosecuting human trafficking offenses. It also recognizes child pornography production as a form of human trafficking.

Considerations on the Bill

S.178 is supported by a large coalition of organizations, including: Shared Hope International; Human Rights 4 Girls; Fraternal Order of Police; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; National Children’s Alliance; National Criminal Justice Association; End Child Prostitution and Trafficking; PROTECT; National Association of Police Organizations; and National Conference of State Legislatures.

Notable Bill Provisions

 Section 2 – Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund

This section requires offenders to pay a special assessment of $5,000 if convicted of the following federal offenses: human trafficking; sexual abuse; child pornography; child sexual exploitation; interstate transportation for illegal sexual activity; or commercial human smuggling. It establishes a “Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund” in the U.S. Treasury, paid for with these collected penalties. Under this section, the attorney general may use the fund to supplement programs for human trafficking victims, and provide law enforcement with resources to investigate and combat modern-day slavery. Finally, this section allows unused balances from the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund to be transferred to the Crime Victims’ Fund.

Section 3 – Clarifying Benefits and Protections Offered to Domestic Victims of Human Trafficking

This section amends the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to explicitly allow U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to be recognized as human trafficking victims. Under this section, they would not be denied services solely because of their citizenship or residency status.

Section 4 – Victim-Centered Human Trafficking Deterrence Block Grant Program

This section reauthorizes and reformulates an expired section of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act relating to services for domestic child trafficking victims. It authorizes a block grant program to help states and local governments develop and implement victim-centered programs. Authorized programs include training law enforcement to rescue exploited children, create task forces, and investigate and prosecute human traffickers. Other authorized programs relate to the needs of courts to administer and supervise restorative programs in the lives of victims. The section contemplates collaboration between law enforcement, social services, emergency responders, children’s advocacy centers, victim service providers, and nonprofits in an effort to provide a comprehensive approach to both fighting trafficking and serving victims. The grants will be paid through the “Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund” created by the bill.

Section 5 – Direct Services for Victims of Child Pornography

This section creates a new purpose area under the Victims of Child Abuse Act to provide restorative services for victims of child pornography. It also expands the definition of “child abuse” under 42 U.S.C. § 13001a(5) to include human trafficking and the production of child pornography.

Section 6 – Increasing Compensation and Restitution for Trafficking Victims

This section amends 18 U.S.C. § 1594, the human trafficking asset forfeiture statute, by expanding the standard for forfeiture of targeted property. It does so by allowing for access to assets that were “involved in” the commission of a violation, not solely those assets “used or intended to be used” in the crime. By changing the standard, prosecutors would not have to show direct traceability between the crime and the targeted assets. Instead, they only need show that the assets were involved in the crime or used to conceal the source of criminal assets. Under this section, the attorney general is required to transfer the proceeds from these forfeitures to satisfy victim restitution orders.

Section 7 – Streamlining Human Trafficking Investigations

This section amends 18 U.S.C. § 2516, the wiretap warrant requirements, to clarify that a wiretap warrant may be obtained in state courts pursuant to a showing of probable cause that the wiretap will provide evidence of a crime of human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, or child pornography production. This section also extends federal wiretap authority to cover all human trafficking offenses.

Section 9 – Reducing Demand for Sex Trafficking

This section amends 18 U.S.C. § 1591 by adding the words “patronized or solicited” to the sex trafficking statute. This change clarifies that criminals who purchase sexual acts from human trafficking victims can be prosecuted and convicted as sex trafficking offenders.

Section 12 – Targeting Child Predators

This section changes 18 U.S.C. § 2423(f), to make it clear that those who knowingly transport a child in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of child pornography production have engaged in illicit sexual activity, regardless of whether sexual contact with the child occurred by the transporter. This section also changes the standard for the affirmative defense available to interstate child predators under 18 U.S.C. § 2423(g). It changes the standard from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing.”

Section 13 – Crime Victims’ Rights

This section amends the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to provide victims with the right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea agreement or deferred prosecution agreement.

Section 15 – Combat Human Trafficking Act

This section directs the Justice Department to ensure that anti-human trafficking training programs include training on methods for investigating and prosecuting the buyers of sex acts involving trafficking victims. It also directs the federal judiciary to provide training to judges on ordering restitution for the victims of sex trafficking. It requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics to prepare an annual report on the number of arrests, prosecutions, convictions and lengths of sentences regarding sex trafficking offenses prosecuted in state courts. This section establishes a minimum period of five years of supervised release for persons who conspire to violate the commercial sex trafficking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1591.

Section 16 – Survivors of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act

This section establishes the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. The council will provide advice and recommendations to the Senior Policy Operating Group and the President’s Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This section sunsets on September 30, 2020.

Section 18 – Grant Accountability

This section allows the Justice Department inspector general to audit grant recipients. Where grantees are found to have unresolved audit findings, they are prohibited by this section from receiving grant funds for two years. This section requires grantees who have improperly received funds to reimburse the federal government an amount equal to the improper award. Finally, this section prohibits non-profit organizations that hold money in offshore accounts from receiving Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act funds.

Administration Position

The administration does not have a position on S. 178.


CBO has not scored S. 178.


The amendment situation is unclear at this time, but it is expected that an agreed upon number of amendments will receive votes.