By: Seth Thomas


As I am writing this blog entry, families around the country are getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July.  Therefore, it seems appropriate to start this article with a quote from the Declaration of Independence. Many of you likely know that this sacred document declares that “all men are created equal.” Did you know that the Declaration lists grievances against the King of England and the people of England? Among the grievances stated, our Founding Fathers complained: “T[he people of England] too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.”

What appropriate words for us today. May we all hear the voice of justice and respond to it. May we treat victims of injustice as if they are our brothers and sisters. Scripture certainly teaches that they are our “neighbors” and if they are Christians, they are truly our brothers and sisters.


This blog entry summarizes key 2015 legislation within the United States and Indiana related to the issue of human trafficking.  The blog will begin with federal legislation, move on to Indiana legislation, then close by highlighting failed legislation that was introduced, but not passed before the Indiana General Assembly. For your convenience (and because the length of this article is fairly long, I have provided a short overview of the bills discussed first.

(Select the title in the short summaries below to go to the topic’s full discussion.)

U.S. Senate Bill 178 – Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 – Key federal legislation that closes gaps in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.  Key provisions include:

  • Establishment of the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund which will help fund grants to states to prevent domestic human trafficking;
  • Provisions criminalizing the purchase of commercial sex acts thereby attacking the demand side of human trafficking;
  • Classifying producers of child pornography as engaged in sex trafficking;
  • Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015 or the SAVE Act of 2015 which prohibits knowingly advertising minors for commercial sex;
  • And many other key provisions.

Indiana Senate Bill 532 – This bill addresses human trafficking, promoting prostitution, and adult entertainment performers. Among other things, the bill established the human trafficking prevention and victim assistance fund.

Indiana House Bill 1216 – This bill requires the superintendent of the state police department to provide and distribute a written informational pamphlet regarding runaway children.  The bill also provides a defense for a child to crimes of prostitution if trafficking is present.

Unsuccessful Legislation – Bills in which their last action was a referral to committee earlier this year.



U.S. Senate Bill 178 – Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

This bill was introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in January 13, 2015.  The bill passed the Senate 99-0 on April 22, 2015.  It then passed the House 420-3 on May 19, 2015.  It became Public Law 114-22 after President Obama signed the bill into law on May 29, 2015.

This law includes numerous amendments to U.S. criminal laws regarding human trafficking, provides additional civil services for victims of human trafficking, and increases grants to states and organizations related to human trafficking.  Below is an edited summary of key provisions as provided by Congress. View the full bill here.

    • (Sec. 101) Imposes an assessment of $5,000 on persons convicted of an offense involving: (1) peonage, slavery, and trafficking in persons; (2) sexual abuse; (3) sexual exploitation and other abuse of children; (4) transportation for illegal sexual activity; or (5) human smuggling.  This assessment is only payable after the criminal has paid all obligations related to victim compensation.
    • (Sec. 102) Establishes the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund into which revenues from above assessments are deposited.  This fund shall be used to award grants to states and localities to combat trafficking, provide protection and assistance for victims of trafficking, develop and implement child abuse investigation and prosecution programs, and provide services for victims of child pornography.
    • (Sec. 103) Replaces the pilot program to establish residential treatment facilities for juveniles subjected to trafficking with a program of three-year renewable block grants administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop, improve, or expand domestic child human trafficking deterrence programs that assist law enforcement.
    • (Sec. 104) Expands the definition of “child abuse” under the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990 to include human trafficking and the production of child pornography and authorizes grants to develop and implement specialized programs to identify and provide direct services to victims of child pornography.
    • (Sec. 105) Provides for the forfeiture of real or personal property that was involved in the commission of human trafficking crimes.
    • (Sec. 108) This section provides for the prosecution of individuals who patronize or solicit persons for a commercial sex act, thus making traffickers and buyers equally culpable for sex trafficking offenses.
    • (Sec. 111) This section classifies producers of child pornography as traffickers engaged in illicit sexual conduct.  The evidentiary burden on the defense, in prosecutions for transporting minors to engage in illicit sexual conduct, to show that an accused reasonably believed that the minor had attained the age of 18 years is increased from a preponderance of the evidence to clear and convincing evidence.
    • (Sec. 113) This section expands crime victims’ rights by requiring notice of the right: (1) to be informed in a timely manner of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement, and (2) to be informed of rights and services described in the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act of 1990.
  • Combat Human Trafficking Act of 2015 – (Sec. 114) This section requires DOJ to ensure that each DOJ anti-human trafficking program includes technical training on: (1) effective methods for investigating and prosecuting persons who obtain, patronize, or solicit commercial sex acts involving a person subject to severe forms of trafficking in persons (buyers); and (2) facilitating the provision of physical and mental health services to persons subject to severe forms of trafficking in persons. The Bureau of Justice Statistics of DOJ is required to prepare and submit annual reports on state enforcement of human trafficking prohibitions.
  • Survivors of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act (Sec. 115) This section establishes the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking to provide advice and recommendations to the Senior Policy Operating Group established under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. The Advisory Council terminates on September 30, 2020.
  • Bringing Missing Children Home Act (Sec. 116) This section amends the Crime Control Act of 1990 to: (1) require state reports on missing children to include a recent photograph of the missing child (if available), (2) reduce to 30 days the period for verifying and updating records on missing children in law enforcement computer networks, (3) require notification to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of each report received of a child reported missing from a foster care family home or childcare institution.  (Sec. 117) This section requires annual audits of grant recipients under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of funds. DOJ is prohibited from awarding a grant to a nonprofit organization that holds money in offshore accounts for tax avoidance purposes.
  • Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015 or the SAVE Act of 2015 (Sec. 118) Prohibits knowingly: (1) advertising commercial sex acts involving a minor or an individual engaged in such an act through force, fraud, or coercion; or (2) benefitting financially or otherwise from such advertising knowing that the individual involved was a minor or victim of force, fraud, or coercion.  (Sec. 119) DOJ must make available a database for trafficking victim advocates, crisis hotline personnel, foster parents, law enforcement personnel, and crime survivors that contains information on counseling and hotline resources, housing resources, legal assistance, and other services for trafficking survivors.  (Sec. 120) Statute of limitations for civil actions against perpetrators of human trafficking offenses extended until ten years after the victim reaches age 18.  (Sec. 121) TheGAO must: (1) conduct a study on each program or initiative authorized under this Act and other specified anti-trafficking Acts to determine whether any program or initiative is duplicative, and (2) submit a report to Congress on such study.
  • TITLE II–COMBATING HUMAN TRAFFICKING Subtitle A–Enhancing Services for Runaway and Homeless Victims of Youth Trafficking (Sec. 201) Amends the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to include within criteria for awarding grants for services to runaway and homeless youth whether such youth have been subject to severe forms of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking as defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
    • Subtitle B–Improving the Response to Victims of Child Sex Trafficking (Sec. 211) This subtitle amends the Missing Children’s Assistance Act to confirm that the cyber tipline for reporting internet-related child sexual exploitation includes child prostitution as a form of child sex trafficking.
    • Subtitle C– (Sec. 222) The Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking shall conduct a review of research and academic literature on trafficking in persons in the United States and make such review publicly available in an electronic format.  (Sec. 223) The GAO shall submit a report to Congress, one year after the enactment of this Act, that includes information on: (1) the efforts of federal and state law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking in the United States, and (2) each federal grant program for combatting human trafficking or assisting victims of trafficking. (Sec. 224) DOJ is authorized to provide housing to victims of trafficking under the grant program for assistance to trafficking victims in the United States and other countries.
    • Subtitle D–Expanded Training (Sec. 231) This section requires training for federal government personnel related to trafficking in persons to include: (1) a distance learning course on trafficking-in-persons issues and the Department of State’s obligations under such Act, designed for embassy reporting officers, regional bureaus’ trafficking-in-persons coordinators, and their superiors; (2) specific trafficking-in-persons briefings for all ambassadors and deputy chiefs of mission before they depart for their posts; and (3) at least annual reminders to all such personnel and other federal personnel at each diplomatic or consular post outside the United States of key problems, threats, methods, and warning signs of trafficking in persons specific to the country of jurisdiction in which such post is located and appropriate procedures to report information acquired about possible trafficking cases.
  • TITLE III–HERO ACT – Human Exploitation Rescue Operations Act of 2015 or the HERO Act of 2015 – (Sec. 302) This title amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to operate, within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a Cyber Crimes Center to provide investigative assistance, training, and equipment to support domestic and international investigations by ICE of cyber-related crimes.
    • Within the Cyber Crimes Center, DHS shall operate a Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU), which shall:
      • coordinate all ICE child exploitation initiatives, including investigations into child exploitation, child pornography, child victim identification, traveling child sex offenders, and forced child labor, including the sexual exploitation of minors;
      • focus on child exploitation prevention, investigative capacity building, enforcement operations, and training for law enforcement personnel;
      • provide training and technical expertise to cooperating law enforcement agencies and personnel;
      • provide psychological support and counseling services for ICE personnel engaged in child exploitation prevention initiatives;
      • collaborate with the Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Association to Protect Children to recruit, train, equip, and hire wounded, ill, and injured veterans and transitioning service members through the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps program;
      • collaborate with other governmental and nongovernmental entities for the sponsorship of, and participation in, outreach and training activities; and
      • collect and maintain data on the total number of suspects identified by ICE, the number of arrests and cases opened for investigation by ICE, and the number of cases resulting in prosecution and report on such data.
    • DHS shall operate, within the Cyber Crimes Center, a Computer Forensics Unit (CFU). The CFU is directed to:
      • (1) provide training and technical support in digital forensics to ICE personnel and other law enforcement personnel investigating crimes;
      • (2) provide computer hardware, software, and forensic licenses for all computer forensics personnel within ICE;
      • (3) participate in research and development in the area of digital forensics; and
      • (4) collaborate with DOD and the National Association to Protect Children to recruit, train, equip, and hire wounded, ill, and injured veterans and transitioning service members through the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps program.
    • DHS shall also operate, within the Cyber Crimes Center, a Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU). The CCU shall:
      • (1) oversee the cyber security strategy and cyber-related operations and programs for ICE,
      • (2) enhance the ability of ICE to combat criminal enterprises operating on or through the Internet,
      • (3) provide training and technical support in cyber investigations to ICE personnel and other law enforcement personnel,
      • (4) participate in research and development in the area of cyber investigations, and
      • (5) recruit participants in the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps program for investigative and forensic positions.
    • This section further amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to expand the purposes of the DHS Acceleration Fund for Research and Development of Homeland Security Technologies to include conducting research and development to advance technology for the investigation of child exploitation crimes, including child victim identification, trafficking in persons, child pornography, and for advanced forensics.
  • (Sec. 303) Amends the federal criminal code to impose a fine and/or prison term of up to 10 years on anyone who knowingly transports any individual with the intent that such individual engage in prostitution or in any criminal sexual activity. DOJ must grant the request by a state attorney general for designation of a state or local attorney to prosecute a violation of such an offense unless DOJ determines that granting such request would undermine the administration of justice.
  • TITLE IV–RAPE SURVIVOR CHILD CUSTODY – Rape Survivor Child Custody Act – (Sec. 404) This title directs DOJ to increase grant funding to states that have in place a law that allows the mother of any child that was conceived through rape to seek court-ordered termination of the parental rights of her rapist with regard to that child, which the court is authorized to grant upon clear and convincing evidence of rape. Authorizations of appropriations are provided in FY2015-FY2019 to cover such increases.
  • TITLE V–MILITARY SEX OFFENDER REPORTING Military Sex Offender Reporting Act of 2015 (Sec. 502) Amends the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act to direct DOD to provide DOJ with sex offender registration information, to be included in the National Sex Offender Registry and the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, regarding persons who are required to register under such Act and who are: (1) released from military corrections facilities, or (2) convicted if the sentences adjudged by courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice do not include confinement.
  • TITLE VI–STOPPING EXPLOITATION THROUGH TRAFFICKING (Sec. 601) This section amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to authorize DOJ to give preferential consideration in awarding public safety and community-oriented policing grants to an application from an applicant in a state that has in effect a law that:
    • (1) treats a minor who has engaged in, or has attempted to engage in, a commercial sex act as a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons;
    • (2) discourages or prohibits the charging or prosecution of such individual for a prostitution or sex trafficking offense based on such conduct; and
    • (3) encourages the diversion of such an individual to appropriate service providers, including child welfare services, victim treatment programs, child advocacy centers, rape crisis centers, or other social services.
  • (Sec. 602) This section amends the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (VTVPA) to require DOJ’s annual report on federal agencies that are implementing provisions relating to the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to include information on the activities of such agencies, in cooperation with state, tribal, and local law enforcement officials, to identify, investigate, and prosecute: (1) sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion or with a minor; (2) sexual exploitation of children; (3) the selling and buying of children; (4) transportation with intent that the victim engage in illegal sexual activity; (5) coercion or enticement to travel for illegal sexual activity; and (6) transportation of minors for illegal sexual activity. (Sec. 603) Further amends VTVPA to require HHS, annually beginning in FY2017, to make grants for a national communication system to assist victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons in communicating with service providers. (Sec. 604) Amends the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to include victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons among those eligible for the Job Corps without being required to demonstrate low-income eligibility.  (Sec. 605) Amends the federal judicial code to authorize the United States Marshals Service to assist state, local, and other federal law enforcement agencies, upon request, in locating and recovering missing children.  (Sec. 606) Requires DOJ to implement and maintain a National Strategy for Combating Human Trafficking, which shall include: (1) integrated federal, state, local, and tribal efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases; (2) case coordination with DOJ on human trafficking investigations among the U.S. Attorneys, relevant DOJ departments, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and (3) annual budget priorities and federal efforts dedicated to preventing and combating human trafficking.
  • TITLE VII–TRAFFICKING AWARENESS TRAINING FOR HEALTH CARE Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act of 2015 (Sec. 702) This title requires the Health Resources and Services Administration of HHS to award a grant or contract to an accredited school of medicine or nursing with experience in the study or treatment of victims of a severe form of trafficking to train health care professionals to recognize and respond to trafficking victims.  Grantees must: (1) develop evidence-based best practices for health care professionals to recognize and respond to victims of a severe form of trafficking, (2) design and implement a pilot program to test the best practices and educational material developed to identify victims of human trafficking by health care professionals, and (3) analyze and report on the pilot program.  HHS is required to disseminate and post on its website evidence-based best practices for recognizing potential victims of a severe form of human trafficking.
  • TITLE VIII–BETTER RESPONSE FOR VICTIMS OF CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING Ensuring a Better Response for Victims of Child Sex Trafficking (Sec. 802) This title amends the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to require a state plan for its child protective services system to include a certified assurance that the state has in effect and is enforcing a law requiring: (1) identification and assessment of all reports involving children known or suspected to be victims of sex trafficking; and (2) training child protective services workers in identifying, assessing, and providing comprehensive services for children who are sex trafficking victims. Each state receiving a grant must work with HHS to make an annual data report that includes the number of children determined to be victims of sex trafficking. A child is considered to be a victim of “child abuse and neglect” and of “sexual abuse” if the child is identified by a state or local agency employee as being a victim of sex trafficking or a victim of severe forms of trafficking in persons. A state is given the option to define “child” under such Act as a person who has not attained age 24.
  • TITLE IX–ANTI-TRAFFICKING TRAINING FOR DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY PERSONNEL (Sec. 902) This title requires DHS to implement a program to: (1) train and periodically retrain relevant personnel in the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other DHS personnel on how to effectively deter, detect, and disrupt human trafficking; and (2) ensure that such personnel regularly receive current information on matters related to the detection of human trafficking. DHS must certify to Congress that all such personnel have successfully completed required training. (Sec. 904) DHS may provide training to assist any state, local, or tribal government or private organization in establishing a program of training to identify human trafficking. (Sec. 905) This section expands the purposes for which funds from the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund may be used to include grant funding for state and local Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces to combat child exploitation.
  • TITLE X–HUMAN TRAFFICKING SURVIVORS RELIEF AND EMPOWERMENT ACT Human Trafficking Survivors Relief and Empowerment Act of 2015 (Sec. 1002) This title amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide for preferential consideration of grant applications under the public safety and community-oriented policing grant program to applicants from states that have in effect a law that: (1) provides a process by which a human trafficking survivor can move to vacate any arrest or conviction records for a non-violent offense committed as a direct result of human trafficking, including prostitution or lewdness; (2) establishes a rebuttable presumption that any arrest or conviction of an individual for a human trafficking offense is a result of being trafficked if such individual has been granted nonimmigrant status as a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons, is certified by HHS as a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, or has other similar documentation of trafficking; (3) protects the identify of individuals who are human trafficking survivors in public and court records; and (4) does not require an individual who is a human trafficking survivor to provide official documentation in order to receive protection under the law

Indiana Senate Bill 532

This bill was authored by Sen. Randall Head and Sen. Erin Houchin. It addressed Human trafficking, promoting prostitution, and adult entertainment performers. It passed the Senate 50-0, then passed the House 98-0. The Senate dissented from amendments made by the house, thereby sending the bill to conference committee. The committee’s report was then passed by both houses with only one dissenting vote. It became Public Law 237 on May 7, 2015 when signed by Governor Pence. View the full bill.

The bill established the human trafficking prevention and victim assistance fund to fund human trafficking victim services and human trafficking prevention programs.  Money collected (through the seizure of property used in connection with human trafficking) will be divided as follows: (1) 80% will be transferred to the human trafficking prevention and victim assistance fund; and (2) 20% will be transferred to the county for use by the prosecuting attorney.  The bill further authorized the seizure of property used in connection with human trafficking and required certain reports to legislature annually regarding seizures of property.  The law defines an “indecent nuisance” as including a public place in or upon which human trafficking is conducted, permitted, continued, or exists, and the personal property and contents used in conducting and maintaining the place for such a purpose.

The law places various requirements on “adult entertainment” providers.  It requires all performers to provide proof of age and proof of legal residency.  It requires the provider to take a photograph of each adult entertainer who auditions and retain the photograph for at least three years.  It requires all employees to sign a document acknowledging their awareness of the problem of human trafficking.  Providers must display human trafficking awareness posters in at least two places in the licensed premises.  Finally, providers are required to cooperate with any law enforcement investigation.  Failure to comply with these requirements could cause the alcohol and tobacco commission to suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a retailer’s permit.

It is interesting to note that the Indianapolis Star reported that this bill was actively supported by some businesses in the adult entertainment industry.  According to the Star, Michael Ocello, an executive board member of the Association of Club Executives, co-founded a group that focuses on training club workers and staff to identify victims of human sex trafficking. He first came up with the idea after law enforcement authorities suspected him of supporting sex trafficking in one of his clubs. After that, Ocello began working with federal law enforcement on measures to curb sex trafficking.

Indiana’s Attorney General has been publicly mentioning this particular legislation.  He stated “We now see that a lot of these are young runaway teens, as early as 12-14 is the average age, they’re usually abused, sexually abused at home, sometimes in foster homes,” Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.  A recent news report about Indiana Senate Bill 532 can be found here.


Indiana House Bill 1216

This bill was authored by Rep. Randy Truitt. It addressed missing and trafficked children. It passed the House 98-0, then passed the Senate 49-0. It became Public Law 23 on April 15, 2015 when signed by Governor Pence. View the full bill.

It requires the superintendent of the state police department to: (1) provide a written informational pamphlet that includes information concerning the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Safeline; and (2) distribute the pamphlet to every law enforcement agency.  The pamphlet will be required to be provided to any person making a report of a missing child at the time the person makes the report.  The law also provides a defense to the crime of prostitution if the person was a child who was a victim or alleged victim of human or sexual trafficking at the time the person engaged in the prohibited conduct.  The law further requires law enforcement to immediately contact the department of child services if an alleged victim of human or sexual trafficking, less than 18 years of age, is detained.

July 13, 2015 UPDATE – The Governor selected House Bill 1216 to ceremoniously sign into law in July.  At that ceremony Governor Pence stated  “Simply put, these bills are about protecting our children and our young people, and I am honored to ceremonially sign them into law today. I applaud the work of the Indiana General Assembly to unanimously codify these important measures into Indiana law.”


Unsuccessful Legislation

Senate Bill 375

This bill was authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, Sen. Randall Head, and Sen. Brent Steele. The bill allowed law enforcement to seize real or personal property, including vehicles if used in the commission of human trafficking or promoting prostitution. The bill passed the Indiana Senate 50-0 on February 10, 2015. The bill’s last action was its referral to committee in the House on March 9, 2015. It appears this bill’s purpose was captured in Senate Bill 532 discussed above.

House Bill 1369

This bill was authored by Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer. It would have required courts to impose a fine (a human trafficking victims assistance fee) against a person convicted of patronizing a prostitute if the prostitute is a victim of human trafficking. The fine was set at: (1) $1,000 if the prostitute was at least 18 years of age; and (2) $1,500 if the prostitute is less than 18 years of age.  Funds from these fees would have been deposited in the family violence and victim assistance fund. The bill’s last action was its referral to committee on January 14, 2015.

Seth ThomasAs an attorney, I’ve been passionate about justice since I was a young boy.  Long ago, I heard about Christian organizations (e.g., International Justice Mission) who were working on the front lines of the battle against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Today, I am excited that the Church is awakening to that work. I’m privileged and humbled to help lead justice efforts with Traders Point Christian Church. I truly appreciate our local partners who are co-laboring in these efforts, including Ascent 121. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *