Collins, Heitkamp Bipartisan Bill to Help Identify, Protect Human Trafficking Victims to be Signed into Law

Legislation will Strengthen & Expand Pilot Training Program for Health Care Providers

Nearly 1/3 of Trafficked Women Saw a Health Care Professional While in Captivity

 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today announced that their bipartisan legislation to help combat human trafficking passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. The Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

 

The bipartisan bill will help make sure health care providers – including doctors, nurses, and social workers – have the training they need to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking. Studies suggest that nearly one-third of women trafficked in America saw a health care professional while they were still captive to these crimes. Additionally, increased training of health professionals to identify red flags of human trafficking could help make sure victims receive resources and services to get the protection and care they need.

 

The SOAR Act will provide health care workers across the country with needed training on how to recognize, report, and potentially intervene when they see patients who are possible human trafficking victims. By expanding on a U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) pilot program pilot program, the Senators’ bill will help provide training to a specific group of professionals who are more likely to encounter potential human trafficking victims to help get them the support they need.

 

“Every state in America is affected by the evils of sex trafficking. Human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable, including homeless or runaway children. Identification is the first, and frequently missed, step in helping victims and stopping these atrocities,” said Senator Collins. “Senator Heitkamp has been a long-time leader on this issue and an excellent partner on this legislation, which will help ensure that health care providers have the training they need to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking. Her experience as North Dakota’s chief law-enforcement officer was key to our bill’s success, and we look forward to seeing it become law.”

 

“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes, and it happens in our own backyards,” said Senator Heitkamp. “It’s a great day that our bipartisan bill passed in Congress and will soon be signed into law to take important and needed steps to help stop these crimes. I greatly appreciate Senator Collins’ work with me over the years to combat human trafficking and bring these crimes out of the shadows. This bill will soon enable doctors, nurses, and health professionals to help identify those being trafficked so they can then contact law enforcement. And it builds on bipartisan legislation I helped write earlier this year, that also became law, to crack down on websites that knowingly facilitate sex trafficking. During my time in the Senate, I’m proud of the significant steps we have taken to stop human trafficking, and that work must continue in the next Congress.”


Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced the companion bill in the House of Representatives.

 

Since September 2014 the HHS pilot program has trained health care providers to help identify and protect victims of human trafficking at six sites in five states across the country – including North Dakota. The bill will build off the pilot program by making sure more health care and related professionals across the country get the training by: developing a national program for quality training; making sure these training efforts are adaptable, effective, and responsive to the needs of victims; and tracking these efforts nationally – so the programs can continue to develop and improve to best serve more victims and survivors of human trafficking.

 

First introduced in May 2015, Senators Collins and Heitkamp’s SOAR Act would build and expand on the HHS pilot program, working to prepare medical professionals to identify, properly treat, and aid victims of human trafficking by:

 

·         Engaging Health Care Professionals to Provide Responsive Care: The bill would help guide health care professionals to identify human trafficking victims, empower and refer victims and survivors by helping them communicate with law enforcement or access social and victims’ services, and provide care that is sensitive to the age, gender, or culture of the victim, as well as to circumstance and potential trauma they may have experienced.

 

·         Bringing All Sides Together: The bill would collectively engage victims, survivors, advocates as well as federal, state, local or tribal partners by making sure all sides are communicating effectively on collective and flexible training that accommodates the needs of specific communities.

 

·         Developing a National Strategy: The bill would work to provide a nationwide protocol for health care training to make sure that medical professionals have the opportunity to access the technical assistance and education they need to prepare for and respond to instances of human trafficking.

 

·         Tracking the Progress: The bill would implement required reporting and data on the facilities and providers using the training to combat human trafficking.

 

Senators Collins and Heitkamp have long worked to combat human trafficking. In 2015, the Senators worked to pave a bipartisan, compromise path forward for the successful passage of the bipartisan, comprehensive Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act. Now law, the bill will help provide stronger assistance to victims of human trafficking, increase resources to law enforcement and victims services organizations, and implement stricter punishments for perpetrators of these crimes.