Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Chris Smith
Date: Feb. 28, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I thank my good friend for yielding.

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Violence Against Women Act offered by Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers. It authorizes $2.2 billion for VAWA to help victimized women & children seeking assistance to break the cycle of violence & live free from intimidation, fear, abuse, & exploitation. I just want to point out something that little attention has been paid to.

A little over a decade ago, I authored the Trafficking Victims' Protection Act of 2000, the landmark law that created America's comprehensive policy to combat modern-day slavery. The TVPA created the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Office, now led by an ambassador-at-large with a robust complement of over 50 dedicated and highly trained people.

The Leahy trafficking amendment to S. 47, title XII, guts the TIP Office and represents a significant retreat in the struggle to end human trafficking. The only way to fix it is to pass the McMorris Rodgers amendment, go to negotiations, and get this legislation fixed.

The TIP Office is an extraordinary advocacy mechanism and has had a huge impact worldwide. In addition to best-practices advocacy, the office monitors labor and sex trafficking and makes recommendations for whether or not countries be ranked tier one, tier two, or tier three.

For over a decade, the Trafficking in Persons Office has been the flagship in our struggle to combat human trafficking. The Leahy amendment cuts the authorization for the TIP Office from about $7 million down to $2 million. It eviscerates the TIP Office; there is no doubt about that.

It also shifts responsibilities to the regional bureaus. We have had problems over the last decade, as my colleagues, I'm sure, know. The regional bureaus have a whole large portfolio of issues that they deal with. When they deal with those issues, trafficking is on page 4 or page 5 of their talking points. The TIP Office walks point; it has now been demoted significantly.

I would point out that when I first did the trafficking bill, there was huge pushback from the State Department. They didn't want human rights in general, and absolutely they did not want the trafficking-in-persons issue to be dominant and center stage. That's what the office does. It is a step backwards for combating human trafficking.

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Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Violence Against Women Act, VAWA, authored by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

It authorizes $2.2 billion for VAWA to help victimized women and children seeking assistance to break the cycle of violence and live a life free from intimidation, fear, abuse and exploitation.

VAWA is landmark legislation with a proven track record of assisting abused and battered women and must be reauthorized. VAWA includes: $222 million in STOP grants, providing critical funding to improve the criminal justice system's response to crimes against women; $73 million in Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforce Protection Orders, providing resources to bring abusers to justice and providing victims with the legal protections to live free of fear from their abusers; $57 million for Legal Assistance for Victims, providing necessary funding to strengthen state legal systems and ensure that agencies charged with handling domestic abuse and sexual assault cases are able to assist victims through the legal process; and millions more in housing assistance to shelter victims away from their abusers; grants to protect young women on college campuses; training and services for abuse against women in rural areas and those with disabilities; funding to reduce rape kit backlogs so we can identify past abusers and provide justice to their victims; and many more critical programs that strengthen communities to combat abuse against vulnerable populations.

I just want to point out something that far too little attention has been paid to: the Leahy Amendment cuts to the State Department Trafficking in Persons, TIP, Office contained in the Senate version.

A little over a decade ago, I authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, TPVA, of 2000--the landmark law that created America's comprehensive policy to combat modern day slavery.

The TPVA created the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Office, now led by an ambassador-at-large with a robust complement of over 50 dedicated and highly trained people.

The Leahy trafficking amendment to S. 47--Title XII--guts the TIP office and represents a significant retreat in the struggle to end human trafficking. The only way to fix it is to pass the Violence Against Women Act sponsored by Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, go to negotiations, and strike the cut.

Madam Speaker the now at risk Trafficking in Persons Office is an extraordinary advocacy mechanism and has had a huge impact worldwide. In addition to ``best practices'' advocacy, the office monitors labor and sex trafficking in every country of the world pursuant to minimum standards prescribed in the TPVA and makes recommendations for whether or not countries should be ranked Tier I, Tier II Watch List or Tier III. Countries with bad records and who fail to make ``serious and sustained'' efforts to improve are designated Tier 3--the worst ranking--which may result in sanctions.

For over a decade the Trafficking in Persons Office has been the flagship in our struggle to combat human trafficking, but that will change if the McMorris Rodgers VAWA fails and the House has no means to fix the Leahy amendment in conference.

Madam Speaker, for over a decade the Trafficking in Persons Office has been the flagship in our struggle to combat human trafficking.

The Leahy Amendment, cuts the authorization for the TIP office authorization from $7 million down to $2 million--effectively eviscerating the TIP office.

Making matters worse the Leahy Amendment also shifts responsibilities to the regional bureaus--and we have had problems with regional bureaus and trafficking over the last decade--as my colleagues I'm sure know. Regional bureaus have a large portfolio of issues that they handle. As they deal with those other issues, trafficking is often relegated to page four or page five of their agenda and talking points. The TIP office on the other hand walks point, is singular in focus, and it is imperative that it be adequately resourced and vested with current-day powers to act. Under Leahy the TIP office is demoted significantly.

The simple fact of the matter is that since enactment of the TPVA in 2000, the regional bureaus have often sought to undermine and weaken TIP country ranking recommendations due to other so-called equities. Advancing human rights is general and combating human trafficking in particular, far too often takes a back seat to other priorities.

That's why, back in 2000, I led the effort and wrote the law to make the Trafficking in Persons Office the lead in gathering, analyzing, and putting forward recommendations for every country.

That's why slashing the Trafficking in Persons Office is an awful idea. The victims deserve better.

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