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USVI Governor Bryan announces human trafficking legislation following years of negligence

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Courts, United States Virgin Islands | 0 comments

For many years, US Virgin Islands government leaders have been forced to confront questions of whether they did their due diligence in stopping sex offender Jeffrey Epstein from abusing women and girls in the territory. As a result of such negligence, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. (D) and USVI Attorney General Ariel Smith announced new initiatives to combat human trafficking on July 27.

“We know that victims of human trafficking can come from every community,” Bryan said.

The three-page bill entitled “The Victims of Human Trafficking Prevention Act” outlines the new initiatives, with mandatory reporting requirements and training for law enforcement to recognize human trafficking.  The bill also lays out the need for a USVI Council on Human Trafficking to come up with a plan for victim services. This would help coordinate a plan to provide victims with services and a mechanism for evaluating data on human trafficking in the US Virgin Islands.

Preventing human trafficking will continue to be a priority for me and my Administration,” said Governor Albert Bryan Jr. The new legislation will make it easier for local law enforcement to pursue criminals who engage in human trafficking.

Much like laws for child abuse, the bill also contains a list of people that would be required by law to report possible human trafficking, such as medical providers, caregivers, childcare workers, and parents. The consequences of not following the guidelines could result in a felony, with the individual facing up to five years in prison and an additional fine of up to $5,000 to $10,000.

The bill the Bryan administration proposes would fund USVI Justice Department civil enforcement and criminal prosecution actions “against those alleged to have participated, fostered, failed to report, or facilitated sex trafficking in the Virgin Islands.”

Additionally, the bill would like to implement training programs for peace officers and law enforcement to recognize the signs of human trafficking better.

The bill’s strict policies also require anyone who has received a direct report or knowledge of human trafficking to report it immediately by filing a report with the US Virgin Islands Police.

“The Virgin Islands Department of Justice has a long track record of supporting human trafficking victims, and I’m grateful for Governor Bryan’s support,” said Attorney General Ariel Smith.

This new anti-human trafficking initiative will be funded by proceeds from the sale of Little St. James and the more than $120 million in settlement funds resulting from the lawsuit against the Epstein estate.

The Bryan administration acknowledged former senator Sammuel Sanes (D), a current member in his administration as St. Croix administrator, “for championing the original legislation in 2018.” The nonprofit Child USA, as well as experts in human trafficking prevention and victims, were also major influences in the bill.

Although Epstein’s wealth made him a prominent human trafficker, St. Thomas has cultivated other offenders from low-income backgrounds targeting vulnerable immigrants searching for a better life.

In addition to reporting requirements in the draft bill, “we are working with our federal partners to expand our sex offender notification laws, to see if we can require sex offenders to notify the Department of Justice about any individuals who are traveling with a registered sex offender,” Bryan said. 

In his announcement on July 27, Governor Bryan announced that the US Virgin Islands Department of Justice would be launching a public awareness campaign to help the public and law enforcement better identify the signs of human trafficking.

According to Governor Bryan, everyone needs to have more awareness about human trafficking. “Awareness is our greatest weapon, and I can’t emphasize that enough. General awareness of the community and people to pay attention to what is going on,” Bryan said.

Whether this new legislation will result in meaningful changes for those experiencing human trafficking is too early to tell, but it is a step in the right direction for the Bryan administration. It shows an effort following years of negligence.



Jesse Dimich-Louvet

Jesse Dimich-Louvet

Jesse W. Dimich-Louvet is a senior journalism major and political science minor at the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University. He grew up between Billings, Montana, and Paris, France, and covers politics and sports for Temple. At Pasquines, Jesse is a former US Virgin Islands Affairs Intern Editor.


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