States Fight to End Modern Day Slavery
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise worldwide, netting an estimated $32 billion each year. As one of the fastest growing criminal industries, its impact can be felt in communities across the U.S. and around the globe, yet it often transpires with very little notice.
Human trafficking is often described as a form of modern-day slavery through which individuals are exploited through force, fraud or coercion for labor service or commercial sex acts.
State legislatures are leading the response to this fast-growing crime, according to Britanny Vanderhoof, policy counsel for the Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking advocacy organization.
“States have really taken up the issue of human trafficking as a state issue,” she said during a recent webinar, “Human Trafficking: State Responses to Modern-Day Slavery,” presented by CSG South.
The past decade has been a pivotal period for the development of human trafficking laws across the country. Only three states had laws addressing human trafficking in 2003, said Vanderhoof, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia have legislation in place today.
To help track states’ legislative responses to trafficking, the Polaris Project has created a four-tiered rating system that assesses the presence or absence of 12 categories of laws that form a basic legal framework for human trafficking. It coves issues such as the legal definition of human trafficking, investigative tools, required training for law enforcement professionals and vacating convictions for trafficking victims.
Arkansas is one state that has made significant strides in the fight against human trafficking. After the Polaris Project in 2012 gave the state the lowest possible ranking for its human trafficking laws, Sen. Missy Irvin, chair of the Senate’s Children and Youth Committee, and several colleagues in the Arkansas legislature took action.
In 2012, a bipartisan coalition of policymakers held the state’s first annual summit on human trafficking, consisting of state legislators as well as national human trafficking experts and victims, to explore the issue and its impact on the state.
The energy generated during the summit helped build the momentum needed to make necessary and significant legislative changes to the state’s laws on human trafficking, Irvin said. With guidance from the Polaris Project and key stakeholders from across the state, the Arkansas legislature this year passed a comprehensive package of three bills on human trafficking, earning the state a tier-one rating and a most improved status by the Polaris Project.
“It was a really monumental day in Arkansas,” said Irvin.
State laws provide the foundation for individuals like Dalia Racine, a prosecutor in Dakalb County, Ga., who are on the front line in states’ efforts to combat human trafficking. Racine specializes in prosecuting cases involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
From her vantage point, the importance of education and training on human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children are paramount, as many misperceptions about the crime exist.
A frequent misunderstanding is that human trafficking only involves immigrant victims, although the majority of sexually exploited children in the U.S. are American-born. Moreover, a recent study by the organization End Child Prostitution and Trafficking found that 50 percent of commercially sexually exploited children are boys; findings Racine said were shocking for professionals like her who work in the field.
“We are totally missing the mark,” said Racine. “If all of my cases involve females, why am I not seeing the boys?”
Other challenges in the prosecution of trafficking crimes include the complexity of trafficking cases, which often include a vast array of criminal elements such as kidnapping, drug crimes and physical assault, as well as the prominent role the Internet plays in trafficking crimes. Citing a recent study, Racine noted that Facebook and other social media sites are now the primary tool used by traffickers to recruit children.
Despite these challenges, the momentum of state governments’ efforts to combat human trafficking crimes continues.
“States are still innovating and pushing the ball forward on what they can do to respond to this crime and hopefully prevent it,” said Vanderhoof. She highlighted several best practices that are shaping the development of new laws across the country.
New Jersey requires training around the identification and detection of human trafficking not only for law enforcement officers, but also for judges, prosecutors and hotel industry professionals.
Texas became the first state to pass a law mandating establishments that have a liquor license to post the national human trafficking hotline. As a result, the majority of calls to the national hotline from Texas are made from these establishments.
Through Kentucky’s Safe Harbor law, child victims of trafficking are protected against prosecution for an expanded range of crimes, including prostitution and other related offenses like loitering.
In California, companies with annual revenues exceeding $100 million must report on what they are doing, if anything, to eliminate trafficking from their supply chains.
State innovations like these, said Vanderhoof, are the driving force for the creation of new, stronger laws to combat human trafficking at both the state and federal levels.
Also in this issue: