June 09, 2016

Rep. Cárdenas Joins Cohen, Kinzinger, and Wagner to Introduce Bipartisan Bill in Support of Human Trafficking Victims

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), along with Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) yesterday introduced H.R. 5405, the Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Act. This bipartisan legislation would provide health care professionals at all levels with training on how to identify and appropriately treat human trafficking victims. It is a companion bill to S. 1446, which was introduced by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

“Human trafficking has grown into a large scale industry that is disproportionately geared towards women,” said Rep. Cárdenas. “This is just one of the many reasons why I did not hesitate to become an original cosponsor of the SOAR bill. Victims of trafficking suffer long-term effects, and with the introduction of new research, it is evident that the people who seek help can be identified and properly cared for by trained professionals. It is time to use this information in order to help stop the growth of the trafficking industry and facilitate the well-being of both survivors and victims.” 

The Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to Health and Wellness Act supports efforts underway at the Department of Health and Human Services to combat human trafficking by directing the Secretary to establish a pilot program to be known as ‘Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to Health and Wellness Training.’ While human trafficking victims are often difficult to identify, a reported 68 percent of trafficking victims end up in a health care setting at some point while being exploited, including in clinics, emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. 

The SOAR Act will help close the gap in health care settings without plans for treating human trafficking victims.  

“Human trafficking is a hidden crime that impacts hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S., and many of these victims end up in a health care setting while being exploited,” said Rep. Cohen. “Our bill aims to ensure health care professionals are trained to identify victims of human trafficking and provide them with critical, victim-centered health care.  Our bill also enables health care providers to implement protocols and procedures to work with victims, service organizations, and law enforcement so that victims can get proper support and perpetrators of human trafficking are brought to justice. I would like to thank Reps. Kinzinger, Cárdenas and Wagner for joining me in introducing this bill.”

“It is critical that our health care providers are trained to recognize cases of human trafficking and have the proper procedures to best help those most vulnerable,” said Rep. Kinzinger. “I’m proud to be an original cosponsor of the SOAR Act and I believe this pilot program will have a significant impact towards identifying cases of human trafficking and helping more victims across the country from this disgusting crime.”

“Education and awareness are critical in the fight to end human trafficking. This legislation will provide health care providers on all levels with the appropriate training and tools necessary to identify and report potential cases of human trafficking,” said Rep. Wagner. “With tens of thousands of victims being trafficked in the United States each year, I am happy to work with my colleagues across the aisle to introduce and quickly pass this legislation.” 

“Victims of human trafficking are hidden in plain sight – making those in captivity unrecognizable even to our most trusted professionals like doctors and nurses,” said Senator Heitkamp. “By implementing across the country the successes of health worker pilot training programs in North Dakota, my bipartisan bill with Sen. Collins would help provide the critical tools medical professionals need to recognize and protect victims of human trafficking. Today’s introduction of our bill in the U.S. House of Representatives is a critical step toward putting an end to human trafficking by identifying victims and getting them the support they need.”

“Sex trafficking is a heinous crime that tragically affects every corner of America.  Human traffickers prey upon the most vulnerable, often homeless or runaway children,” said Senator Collins.  “Identification is a crucial, and frequently missed, step in helping victims and stopping these atrocities.  This bipartisan legislation would expand a successful pilot program at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that more health care providers have the training to identify, report, and treat these cases, which will help us shine a light on some of the darkest stories imaginable and protect victims of these detestable crimes.”

Of the more than 5,680 hospitals in the United States, only 60 have been identified as having a plan for treating patients who are victims of trafficking. Ninety-five percent of emergency room personnel are not trained to treat trafficking victims.

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