Collins, Heitkamp Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Identify, Protect Human Trafficking Victims

Legislation Would Strengthen & Expand Successful 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. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to 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.

Senators Collins and Heitkamp’s Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act would 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. Recent studies suggest that nearly one-third of women trafficked in America saw a health care professional while they were still captive to these crimes and that 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.

“Every state in America is affected by the evils of sex trafficking. Human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable, often homeless or runaway children. Identification is the first, and frequently missed, step in helping victims and stopping these atrocities,” said Senator Collins. “This bipartisan legislation would bolster the current success of the U.S. Health and Human Services pilot program by expanding it and greatly increasing the number of our health care providers who will have the training to protect victims and expose these heinous crimes.”

“This month when I spoke with a mother whose young daughter was terrorized on a near daily basis after being trafficked for sex, I asked her what she thought needed to change going forward. Her answer was simple – health care professionals need the training and the tools to recognize and protect victims of sex trafficking, especially children like her daughter,” said Senator Heitkamp. “Senator Collins and I are reintroducing our bipartisan bill to make sure health providers – sometimes some of the only people victims interact without their trafficker in the room – can identify and get help for victims of sex trafficking. Our nation recognizes Human Trafficking Awareness this month – and by training health professionals to spot potential victims – we can expand awareness in the medical community so they are prepared to intervene and have a clear process on handling the situation. By building on the success of pilot training programs of about 60 doctors, nurses and others in Williston and New Town, we can strengthen our community and nationwide network that unmasks and effectively combats human trafficking, protects victims, and prevents these crimes from proliferating in our towns.”

Since September 2014 a successful Department of Health and Human Services (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. 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.

The companion bill to Senators Collins and Heitkamp’s legislation was also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).