Massachusetts and Rhode Island are two of several states that have established task forces to confront what has become the fastest growing criminal industry in the world — human trafficking. They are looking both worldwide and close to home for lessons that might help in better understanding the dimensions of the problem.
Norma Ramos of the Coalition against Trafficking in Women says, “When you have countries like the Netherlands that have legalized prostitution, what you have done is given the traffickers a great gift. What you have in those countries is a core center of legalized prostitution and then an enormous ring of illegal prostitution and trafficking that takes place both inside the legal trafficking and outside of it.” Ramos cited the example of Amsterdam when her organization joined with other human trafficking advocates last year in a campaign to end prostitution in Rhode Island.
Some sex workers, bloggers and self-professed libertarians argued at state hearings last year that criminalizing the practice would only drive traffickers further underground. Police do not deny that this may have happened. Police detective Lt. Mike Correia concedes that trying to spot possible human trafficking venues now might not be as easy as it was in the past, even with a trained eye. As a result of this shift, the police have come to rely more and more on the community for tips.
Rhode Island police have also developed better working relationships with local advocacy groups that work with prostituted women and children. Correia says the collaboration has changed his perspective. “Quite frankly, I think sometimes the police- you know our strength isn’t always with the victim, emphasizing with the victim” says Correia, “So it is a good collaboration. So recognizing that if we go in and arrest a girl who is potentially a victim, but yet breaking the law, if we put her in handcuffs, what’s the odds of her believing that we’re really trying to help her?”
Learn more at Phillip Martin’s WGBH article: Human Trafficking Outpaces Drugs, Guns As World’s Fastest Growing Criminal Industry.