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Anti-sex trafficking bill clears hurdles in the Senate
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Bipartisan legislation to combat sex trafficking in the U.S. helps make sure minors sold for sex arent prosecuted as defendants, but are instead treated as victims. - photo by Lane Anderson
After weeks of difficult deliberations, the Senate on Tuesday reached an agreement on a bill that would provide support for sex trafficking victims in the U.S., including social services and job placement programs, and would help law enforcement crack down on criminal traffickers.

The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking (SETT) Act includes a "safe harbor" provision that helps ensure that minors who are sold for sex aren't prosecuted as defendants or "prostitutes," but are instead treated as victims. Safe harbor laws steer child victims toward child protective services rather than arrest and prosecution. The bill encourages states, through federal grant programs, to pass safe harbor laws.

It also allows victims to participate in the Job Corps program to help get them back on their feet, making them eligible for current job training and skills programs to help them find employment.

The bill, originally a bipartisan effort, would provide much-needed help to victims and bring the U.S. closer to recognized international anti-trafficking policies, but the intended purpose of the bill has been overshadowed by political haggling in recent weeks. The act hit snags when it became caught in a broader stalemate in the Senate over a provision that would ban criminal fines put into a victim fund from being used to pay for abortions. The impasse also stalled the nomination of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.

A deal between Senate Democrats and Republicans creates two different streams of revenue for trafficking victims, one made up of fines from convicted traffickers to cover victims' legal fees and aid, while money already approved for community health centers covers medical costs.

"Im thrilled we were finally able to come together to break the impasse over this vital legislation, and I look forward to swift passage in the Senate so we can ensure victims of human trafficking receive the resources they need to restore their lives, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a co-author of the Bill, said in a statement, according to Dallas Morning News.

Data from anti-trafficking group Polaris showed that last year 5,167 cases of human trafficking were reported in the U.S. to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Polaris, a 26 percent increase from the previous year.

"This new data provided fresh evidence that human trafficking is not just a problem plaguing countries half a world away its happening in our own backyard," Sen. Amy Klobucher, D-Minnesota, a co-author of the bill and longtime anti-trafficking advocate, said in a statement.

Klobucher also said the legislation would help law enforcement "crack down on the criminals who perpetrate these heinous crimes," by coordinating efforts between federal and local agencies to investigate and prevent trafficking.

We need to do more to ensure that victims of sex trafficking are supported, not thrown behind bars."