Too many sex trafficking victims are not being found or helped in the United States because too many local governments are ignorant of state and federal human trafficking laws. Compounding this problem, cities and counties are lagging behind, not revising their laws to bring them into line with state law, and in some cases are even enacting new local legislation directly at odds with state law protecting human trafficking victims.
Mary, 14, was friended on Facebook by Bob, a 26-year-old man. Long story short, after a videotaped gang rape orchestrated by Bob and with a fee for attendance — some well-placed threats and even more perfectly-placed hugs and promises of love and happiness — Mary is on the street every Saturday making cash, which she turns over to Bob while her naive mother thinks she’s at the mall with friends. Three months into this nightmare, Mary is picked up by police. Since the police in her town aren’t trained to screen for human trafficking and are unaware that their state’s law and federal law both clearly define Mary as a victim of human trafficking, she’s arrested and charged with prostitution, pushed through the juvenile court system, and summarily labeled a young criminal. As for Bob, no one even talks about prosecuting him.
Shared Hope International grades every U.S. state according to “41 key legislative components that must be addressed in state laws in order to effectively respond to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking.” This excellent project has driven advocacy to state legislatures and led to some strengthening of state laws. However, if law enforcement on the ground is untrained in those laws, if local prosecutors are untrained or unmotivated, then the state laws are of little consequence as they linger unused.
It’s time to demand that local city and county laws be held to the standard of state and federal law. Doing so may be a start to fixing how local law enforcement treats commercially sexually exploited and trafficked people of all ages. Get local groups together to discuss the laws, meet with city leaders and officials, develop action plans, and advocate for changing problematic laws in your city or county. Concerns to look for:
- Does your city law, ordinance, or code mandate that every person found in prostitution be screened for signs of human trafficking?
- Does your city law, ordinance, or code mandate that if those signs of human trafficking are present, the person must be routed to specified and appropriate social services?
- Is there provision for addressing demand for sex trafficking and prostitution through arrest and/or education of buyers? And/or provisions for the arrest of sellers (pimps/traffickers)?
Here’s your chance to act locally for big change.
Learn more at Margaret Howard’s Huffington Post article: Organize to Scrutinize Your Local Sex Trafficking Laws.