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President Obama signs the Violence Against Women Act: What it Means for Victims of Human Trafficking

Photo of President Obama signing the Violence Against Women Act surrounded by advocates and politicians.By Katherine Chon, Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons

Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon and ACF staff joined survivors and advocates on March 7 to witness the signing of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). 

In his remarks, President Barack Obama recognized the importance of the law in expanding protections, changing lives, and shifting community responses: 

“It didn’t just change the rules, it changed our culture.  It empowered people to start speaking out.”

The bi-partisan bill, which passed the Senate (78-22) and the House (286-138), reauthorized key federal anti-trafficking programs for the next four years and added new protection for victims of violence and human trafficking. Key features of the reauthorization, particularly in reference to ACF’s anti-trafficking initiatives aim to:

  • Enhance youth safety (Section 302): Authorizes the Attorney General (in collaboration with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education) to award grants to enhance the safety of youth and children who are victims of, or exposed to, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or sex trafficking and to prevent future violence. Learn more about ACF’s programs in the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). 
  • Strengthen safety and justice for Native American women (Sections 901 and 902): Adds sex trafficking to the list of crimes covered in grants to Indian Tribal governments and coalitions funded through the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of the Interior. Learn more about ACF’s programs in the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). 
  • Reduce sexual abuse in custodial settings (Section 1101): Requires HHS to issue regulations adopting national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of rape and sexual assault in facilities that maintain custody of unaccompanied children. Learn more about ACF’s Unaccompanied Children Services
  • Unify federal government hotline outreach (Section 1203): Requires all relevant federal government agencies to publicize the HHS-funded National Human Trafficking Resource Center on their websites, in all headquarters offices, and in all field offices throughout the United States. 
  • Provide assistance to domestic minor sex trafficking victims (Section 1241): Eliminates a previously authorized, but unfunded program within ACF that was to develop, expand and strengthen assistance programs for domestic victims and creates a new program within the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to provide (in consultation with ACF) four block grants to state and local governments to provide residential care, emergency response, case management, mental health counseling and other service and educational programs. 
  • Strengthen Child Advocate program for unaccompanied children (Section 1262): Expands HHS authority relating to the appointment of child advocates for unaccompanied children in immigration detention sites, provides criteria for site selection, and requires HHS to report to Congress on the child advocate program. 
  • Provide benefits to certain U-Visa holders (Section 1263): Extends eligibility of certain U-visa holders to benefits under the ORR Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program and/or federal foster care. Learn more about foster care programs under the Children’s Bureau. 

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was first passed in 2000 and reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008.

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