DBRA Act First Step Towards Financial Independence
In December 2021, President Biden signed the Debt Bondage Repair Act (“DRBA”) into law. The DBRA prohibits a consumer reporting agency from penalizing survivors for any harm to their credit for the period that they experienced trafficking victimization. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued specific requirements and steps for consumer reporting agencies in April.
Traffickers commonly use economic means to exploit and control their victims. Traffickers often target victims with economic vulnerabilities; they then exploit these vulnerabilities through force, fraud, or coercion. For example, traffickers may use their victims’ social security numbers to take out loans or open credit cards and never pay back the accrued debt. A victim’s credit is significantly impacted, making it difficult for them to exit 'the life', pay for basic needs, or even get a job.
Advocates recognized the economic hurdles survivors face and have been working to pass legislation for years. The DBRA is the first step toward economic empowerment and justice for survivors. It enables qualified survivors to repair damage to their credit resulting from their victimization.
Survivors must prove their victimization using official documentation to qualify for the DBRA’s protections. Official documentation includes either a determination by a Federal or State government entity, authorized non-profit service provider, or a court that the consumer is a victim of trafficking. This may be difficult to obtain. Similar requirements in state-level vacatur laws have created significant barriers to survivors seeking relief.
Qualification is not the only barrier survivors may face seeking relief. They may not be able to provide the required financial information, may struggle with financial literacy, or may not have access to resources to assist. Moreover, producing a report from the government or a court that states that they are a victim of trafficking can prove expensive, traumatizing, and difficult to navigate. Survivors often lack the resources to hire an attorney to help them, or they may fear they will face additional consequences for coming forward as a survivor.
While there is still work needed to address financial exploitation, the DBRA is a big stride towards helping survivors gain financial independence and move forward with their lives.
Shea M. Rhodes, Esquire
Dawn's Place Board Member
Director and Co-Founder of Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial and Sexual Exploitation