Dr. Marian Hatcher
Shared Hope Policy Consultant
Ambassador-at-Large, United Nations
This writing is immensely important to me, personally and professionally. The heartbeat of accomplishment can be summed up in a quote I admire.
“I am a very strong believer in listening and learning from others” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I can think of no greater situation where this quote is needed, than the exploitation of human beings. It is critical to “listen to survivors.”
Over the last 18 years, I have been on a journey of learning to speak less and with more wisdom, while listening and learning from others. Trust me, it has been an up-hill battle. In general, my inclination is to talk more and listen less. However, with my faith as a guide, I have learned over time to listen more and talk less. Surprisingly, the more I practiced this sage principle, the more I was able to provide useful information based on personal and professional experience.
This past January 2022, I was honored to pen a blog for Shared Hope celebrating the enactment of the Debt Bondage Repair Act (DBRA) as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In that blog I outlined how the DBRA arose from a Congressional hearing on the business of human trafficking in the House Committee on Financial Services, which followed the Committee’s request that I provide technical assistance on issues they wanted to examine related to human trafficking. Because they listened to a survivor during that initial half hour meeting, and again during my testimony at the hearing, a key point about the financial harms experienced by trafficking survivors was brought to life.
You see, in the last line of the witness invitation letter, it stated what I was hoping the hearing would examine: “Members are also interested in understanding how to help survivors restore their names and credit once they are able to escape their traffickers.” Honestly, it was only recently when preparing remarks for a recent speaking engagement, and to my astonishment, that I really noticed that line. In my Congressional testimony, on behalf of SPACE International, Shared Hope International and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, I shared how I had been coerced to buy a car for a trafficker during my exploitation and how that remained on my credit once I was out of the life and trying to rebuild my life and regain financial stability.
Well, the rest is history. Ranking Member McHenry, with bipartisan support and the approval of Chairman Maxine Waters, moved the Debt Bondage Repair Act forward under suspension. Introduced by Senator Cornyn in the Senate, the bill became part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022, with survivor and ally support through the process, and passed Congress on December 27, 2021.
Once the NDAA was signed by President Biden, December 27, 2021, I had the opportunity to provide technical assistance along with Shared Hope to the Senior Legal Counsel of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the entity responsible for putting the law into action within 180 days. I was grateful for the robust discussion with their team and ultimately was very pleased that input from survivors would be considered before the preliminary rule was issued April 7, 2022. The preliminary rule was amazing and acknowledged the need for as broad a rule as possible to ensure a broad range of survivors could qualify for this relief.
Along with a small group of survivors and allies–Shared Hope International, Alliance of Leadership & Innovation for Victims of Exploitation (ALIVE), Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE Institute), National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Charleston Law Center, Restoration61, Twelve11 Partners, Dale Consulting LLC, Vednita Carter Ministries, Jeanette Westbrook MSSW–we submitted a joint comment during the comment period.
On June 23, 2022, the final rule was issued, effective June 24, 2022. “The CFPB has established, among other things, a method for survivors of trafficking to submit documentation to credit reporting companies that identifies any adverse item of information that resulted from human trafficking. The rule prohibits credit reporting companies from providing a report containing the adverse items of information.”
So many emotions followed the final rule being issued. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or scream. In the end I simply praised God for his grace and mercy. In the end, it’s what happens when Justice Ginsburg’s words become reality. Listening and hearing, action words. I am excited now to share this progress with other survivors and asked two of my fellow survivor leaders to share their thoughts on why this relief was so important and what we need to do next. Here are those critically important thoughts:
Alisa Bernard, Director of Policy, Thistle Farms states “the Debt Bondage Repair Act facilitates survivors to regain and, in some cases, gain for the first time agency and autonomy. The DBRA sees the survivor themselves, not just their credit score which allows us to operate not from a place of terror but a place of humanity and dignity. This goes beyond putting a bandaid on a wound, it’s true aftercare in that it’s the starting point for future success and sustainability outside of trafficking experiences. At its core, it validates our experiences of trauma and exploitation by recognizing we should not have to pay the price for something that was done to us.
Vednita Carter, Founder of Breaking Free states, “I recall numerous losses, cars, apartments, even loans he got in my name. I had to pay back all the money. It took me about twenty years to become “credit worthy”. We constantly fight to feel our “worth” as human beings due to our exploitation, so financial worth was almost unattainable, so many didn’t try or couldn’t. Thankfully, today there is this remedy, both broad and systemic, but the DBRA must be accessible to survivors. Outreach, case management and training, is crucial to inform our community of this opportunity and assist in navigating the process.”
As I’ve had the honor of working, fighting side by side with great survivors, and allies on many issues, I’ve learned to listen better than before. I’ve also worked side by side with legislators who were willing to listen to survivors. Together we listened and learned from each other and now have a law and regulations that will outlive me, providing a pathway to financial health and wholeness for many survivors.
My heartfelt thanks to all involved in the passing of the Debt Bondage Repair Act (DBRA). Ranking Member Patrick McHenry and Senator John Cornyn, my gratitude and heartfelt thanks to you both for introducing this in your respective chambers. President Biden, thank you as well for seeing the importance of this small piece of legislation embedded in the National Defense Authorization Act 2022.
We have more work to do, of course. The opportunity to seek this relief must still get to the survivors it was written to assist, as well as those in a position to assist survivors in seeking this relief. In addition to survivors, case managers, legal and financial advisors and other service providers—need to be equipped to navigate the new process for contacting credit reporting agencies to have adverse items removed that resulted from trafficking. With that goal in mind, Shared Hope has developed this fact sheet which provides an overview of the rule for anyone interested in learning more. I encourage survivors and those who work with survivors to review this and also continue to check back here for more information and resources.
So, no longer will we face credit issues with anxiety and dread. The Debt Bondage Repair Act puts survivors in the driver’s seat in reversing some of the financial harms of trafficking!!!