Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee On Consideration of Amendment 290, The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act to S. 178

WASHINGTON, D.C. – April 22, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Shortly, we will vote on two amendments related to preventing human trafficking by supporting runaway and homeless youth. Senator Cornyn’s amendment pays lip service to this effort, but it is not a meaningful alternative to the comprehensive amendment Senator Collins and I will offer. Our amendment, # 290, the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, has the support of 30 bipartisan cosponsors who understand that no effort to end human trafficking can be complete without addressing the needs of runaway and homeless youth. When the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on this legislation last year, it received the vote of almost every single member including Senator Cornyn.

As I listen to the stories of survivors, so many begin with a homeless or runaway teen, scared, desperate for affection, and a safe place to sleep. Traffickers prey on that desperation because there are so few other places for these kids to turn.

A recent study found that 1 in 4 homeless youth have been victims of sex trafficking, or traded sex for survival needs, such as food or a place to sleep. The study also found that 50 percent of homeless youth had been solicited for sex by an adult within 48 hours of leaving home. Let me say that again: half of these homeless kids were solicited for sex by an adult within the first two days of leaving home. These kids – some as young as 12, 13, 14 years old – have nowhere to go, but we can work to make sure they have a safe place to go. That is what our amendment does.

Senator Cornyn’s Amendment, # 1127, is simply not a meaningful alternative to S.290. The amendment I am offering ensures that homeless youth service providers are specifically trained to recognize victims of trafficking, address their unique traumas and refer them to appropriate and caring services. It also lengthens the time that youth can stay in shelters and receive services. Kids who are forced out of shelters and back onto the streets are more likely to fall prey to traffickers. The amendment includes important new efforts to encourage family reunification and allows the young person to define the people they consider family. That is particularly important for runaway children who are often estranged from their parents.

Senator Cornyn’s amendment also fails to include a crucial nondiscrimination provision that is in my amendment. This language would prevent discrimination against youth based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. This language is nearly identical to a provision contained in the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 which passed the Senate with 78 votes and was signed into law.

This language is particularly important in this context because a growing number of homeless and runaway youth identify as LGBT. Many of them have been thrown out of their homes precisely for that reason. These are kids who have been rejected by their parents. No child should face that kind of isolation and rejection. As a parent and grandparent, I find that heartbreaking. We should not allow organizations that take federal funds to turn their back again on these kids – not because of their race, or their religion, or who they love. That is why I cannot understand why Senator Cornyn stripped nondiscrimination protections for these children from his amendment.

I urge all Senators to support my bipartisan amendment. We must support the efforts of the dedicated service providers who make these programs work. We must protect these kids and prevent them from being trafficked in the first place. This prevention will cost money, but it will save lives and prevent the far more costly effects of human trafficking. This is smart money we should be proud to invest in our children.

We must include the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act in our efforts here to prevent more of our kids from becoming victims.

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