Human trafficking and modern slavery is not just a crime committed by a criminal against his or her victim. Many times, it’s able to occur due to the presence of vulnerability that a trafficker can exploit in a population — runaway and abused youths; individuals displaced by natural disasters; unemployed adults unable to find a paying job; children passed through the juvenile justice system. These vulnerabilities are often created or exacerbated by the absence of a safety net or a series of intervention failures.
While federal and state welfare agencies are now recognizing the role of the child welfare system in the prevention, response, and treatment of minor victims of human trafficking and are working to develop responses, many children are falling through the cracks. Minors are being thrown into the juvenile justice system for crimes related to their trafficking situation, such as prostitution. In other cases, welfare workers are unaware of human trafficking indicators or how to direct minor victims to services. If law enforcement and child welfare agencies were trained to identify and sensitively respond to trafficking, it’s likely some, possibly many, of these kids could have accessed help much earlier.
Only 18 states have passed “safe harbor” laws that recognize sexually exploited minors as victims of a crime, rather than criminals. Furthermore, only 14 states have passed “vacating conviction” statutes that remove convictions for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked. Just as important, the states that have passed laws providing for law enforcement training, safe harbor, vacating convictions and other victim services, need the funding in place for implementation.
As more people understand the horror of this form of exploitation, they want to be part of the solution to eliminate what’s estimated to be a $32 billion a year industry. It’s time for policymakers to provide the funding to not only respond to modern slavery, but prevent it — all while we continue to help survivors reclaim their freedom.
Learn more at Keeli Sorensen’s Huffington Post article: Reducing the Vulnerability Associated With Human Trafficking.