Under the TVPA, minors with at least one commercial sex act were considered sex trafficking victims and could not be prosecuted. If "force, fraud, or coercion" against an adult were established in a trafficking case, those adult victims could not be prosecuted either.
Furthermore, the law had a comprehensive approach to fighting trafficking. It both punished perpetrators, and set up what Smith calls a "whole-of-government" strategy including funding protection for victims, and prevention programs.
It reauthorized the Violence Against Woman Act, for instance, and doubled funding under the law for women's shelters, rehab programs, and housing and other initiatives for battered and abused women. It set up a national hotline for victims to report and get connected to help, and created a whole new asylum category, the "T Visa," for trafficking survivors to come to the U.S. temporarily.
With trafficking occurring across international borders, the TVPA established an office at the State Department for monitoring other countries' records on fighting trafficking, and holding them accountable.
In the 20 years since the law's enactment, there have been thousands of trafficking prosecutions-including some recent notable ones.
Charges made in 2019 against investment banker Jeffrey Epstein were under Smith's TVPA. "Smallville" actress Allison Mack and NXIVM's Keith Raniere were charged under the TVPA for running a sex trafficking ring.
"We could always do better, no doubt about it," Smith said of increasing prosecutions, "but the key is a serious and sustained effort to, wherever there is a pimp that's cruelly mistreating a woman, we go after him. And we stop him. And we put him behind bars for a very, very long periods of time."
On Oct. 27, Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and racketeering.
The next day, deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen looked back on the enactment of the TVPA on its 20th anniversary.
"It is important to look back at the coordinated efforts that produced the TVPA," he said, "a collaboration of survivors, civil society advocates from faith-based groups and across the political spectrum, and policymakers."
That collaboration, Smith told CNA, was critical in the fight against trafficking the past two decades. Federal agencies have come together with leaders of faith communities and NGOs, and local and state prosecutors and law enforcement "to all get on the same page for combatting this."
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"That approach, I think, still is a good one," he said.