What is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act?


One of the ways we can support victims of human trafficking is by providing funds for legal services so that survivors have access to Victim’s Rights Attorneys who will fight for them to receive justice as outlined in United States laws. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, commonly referred to as the TVPA, is attempting to make the application of these US laws easier.

The TVPA, created in 2000, equipped the United States government with new tools and resources in order to mount a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to eliminate modern forms of slavery domestically and internationally,” as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice. The TVPA is an application of a law already added to our Constitution; it is a way to follow through on the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude.

I’ll do my best to put it into plain English.

The TVPA protects former, current, and potential trafficking victims, prosecutes its perpetrators, and prevents further trafficking.

To break it down further, the TVPA has a framework of “3 P’s” to fight against human trafficking: protection, prosecution, and prevention.

  1. Protection makes sense as the first “P” since it is what the “P” stands for in the abbreviation TVPA. The TVPA provides increased protections for trafficking victims in two main ways: by expanding services and health benefits to victims regardless of immigration status and by creating new immigration protections for foreign national victims of human trafficking.

  2. The prosecution side of the TVPA includes the addition of new criminal provisions that prohibit forced labor, debt slavery, and sex trafficking; and also criminalizes attempts to engage in these activities. It is the prosecution arm of the TVPA that requires restitution to be paid to victims, as well as mandating that traffickers give up property gained through illegal activity. Overall, the TVPA gives federal prosecutors more clarity and power to bring human traffickers to justice for their crimes and even strengthens penalties for existing trafficking crimes.

  3. The TVPA strengthened prevention efforts by helping to establish and carry out international initiatives to improve economic opportunity for potential victims, those we might refer to as “at-risk.”  

In addition to the “3 P’s”, the TVPA created the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons in the State Department, which publishes an annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report describing and ranking global effort to combat human trafficking. This TIP report is our government’s main diplomatic tool used to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It’s how we tell them how well - or not well - they’re doing. Under the TVPA, the President established a Presidents Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (PITF), a coordinating task force that, among other things, measures and evaluates the progress of the U.S. and other countries in, you guessed it, the “3 P’s”.

Since 2000, there have been a number of Reauthorization Acts, which refine, amend, and add to the TVPA. These were enacted in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013, and were followed by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA). The JVTA gave the Department of Justice more tools to address human trafficking, including the ability to prosecute customers of sex trafficking victims, classifying the production of child pornography as “illicit sexual conduct,” and allowing the seizure of any assets gained through human trafficking to go to towards satisfying a victim restitution order.

Even though these laws have increased justice for trafficking victims, they aren’t a cure-all. According to the Human Trafficking Legal Center, a mere 27% of federal cases involving human trafficking result in restitution being paid to the victim. This statistic comes from their 2018 report.

Why does this happen? One reason is a lack of access to Victim’s Rights Attorneys, leaving victims with lawyers who may not care or know what to argue for in court. Also remember that the defendants in these cases - the accused traffickers - are often much more capable of paying attorneys. They have the upper hand, at least when it comes to money and the influence it brings. These legal cases are fraught with complications, and just because a victim has legal rights does not always mean those rights are granted, especially if the victim does not have the money to pay a knowledgeable and capable lawyer. Another reason is a lack of services. Because of the severe trauma they face, trafficking victims often require intensive therapy, recovery, rehabilitation, and restorative justice. Without these health benefits and additional assistance navigating the legal system, trafficking victims may not even have their day in court.

This lack of access and services is lessened by organizations like CAST. Today, CAST provides support at every phase of a human trafficking victim’s journey to becoming an empowered survivor. CAST is the nation’s largest provider of comprehensive, life-changing services to survivors and an advocate for groundbreaking policies and legislation. These legal services and comprehensive care are vital for a victim to see justice in court, because even with the TVPA, these are tough battles to wage and even more difficult to win.

It has been nearly two decades since the passing of the TVPA. In the Department of Justice’s 10th Anniversary Report of the Act, they promise to strengthen partnerships and continue working “to give victims a voice, bring traffickers to justice, and dismantle human trafficking networks.” It gives me hope to see that leaders in the United States are prioritizing justice for victims of human trafficking. For those of you in the U.S., let’s make sure our local, state, and federal representatives continue to provide funding for the TVPA’s programs, which have a global impact.

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About the Author

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Rae Rohm is an avid baker, an enthusiastic storyteller, and a thoughtful writer who hails from Delaware. She is a graduate of Biola University, where she studied journalism. When she is not teaching people about the glories of her home state, she can be found enjoying nature with her sweet but mischievous puppy, singing along to music while running on the treadmill, and making gifts for her family and friends. Rae loves using her skills and talents to bring all people -  past and present, near and far - into fellowship with one another.