Though Shamere McKenzie, 30, was a victim of sex trafficking for two years, she says her experiences as a young woman forced into prostitution in New York do not define her. “I am not my story,” said McKenzie, who now works as a program assistant for Shared Hope International, a trafficking victim advocacy organization.
Unfortunately, stories like Shamere McKenzie’s are all too familiar in theand across the globe. Yet, the issue of human trafficking is one that is being addressed nationally as lawmakers have spent the past year introducing and passing laws that combat the practice.
In mid-November, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act was introduced in the Senate and the Justice for Victim’s of Trafficking Act was introduced in the House, two of dozens of bipartisan and bicameral anti-trafficking bills that have been introduced in 2013. The November bills would ensure that trafficking victims are not treated as criminals. Also, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 reauthorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and added protection for child victims of trafficking. And 39 sates passed new anti-trafficking laws in 2013.
“We really have come a long way in establishing a baseline environment for effective anti-trafficking responses,” said Lara Powers, a call specialist at the D.C.-based Polaris Project’s Human Trafficking Resource Center. “While this varies from state to state, most states have markedly improved in the past 10 years.”
Michele Clark, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and an expert on human trafficking, says there is an opportunity now for organizations to step in and help trafficking victims move forward. “I believe there’s a lot of work to be done in protection and assistance to trafficked persons so that they can move on with their lives,” Clark said. “And that gives community groups opportunities to step in and help survivors. We can’t prosecute bad guys, but we can create literacy. We can be the ones to open doors.”
Learn more at Maya Rhodan’s Swampland Time article: As Former Prostitute Speaks Out, Lawmakers Target Human Trafficking.