December 6, 2012 — Lawmakers are reviving efforts to for fight human trafficking laws through state legislation, including increased protections for survivors and more successful targeting of traffickers, Politico reports.
At a National Conference of State Legislatures gathering in Washington, D.C., this week, lawmakers are devoting one of two sessions with the White House to human trafficking -- a decision that underscores the increased attention to the issue, according to Politico. On Thursday, state lawmakers likely will meet with staff from Vice President Biden's office and from the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, according to NCSL.
Progress to Date
Every state except Wyoming has criminalized human trafficking, generally defined as "the forced recruitment or abduction of people for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation," Politico reports.
In 2011, 28 states passed anti-trafficking laws, and the Polaris Project has awarded 21 states a top ranking for anti-trafficking efforts. In addition, the White House in September released a series of executive orders aimed at combating the crime.
Despite the volume of state legislation, advocates say that convictions of traffickers remain infrequent. A study released by Northeastern University and the Urban Institute found that only one in five human trafficking cases ends in prosecution. The study also found that local law enforcement officers and prosecutors often are unequipped to assist survivors or recognize human trafficking cases as distinct from other crimes.
Mary Ellison, the policy director for the Polaris Project, said the group will push for "Safe Harbor" laws next year in seven states: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and Texas. The laws would shield young trafficking victims from prosecution for commercial sex acts to which they cannot legally consent.
State lawmakers are working on several other legislative proposals for next year, many of which emphasize survivor protection and better targeting of traffickers. For example, in Texas, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D) has proposed giving victims the ability to sue websites that traffickers use to find clients. Services for survivors also need improvement in many states, which could be a challenge for states grappling with tight budgets.
Other lawmakers are pushing for federal matching funds for survivors' services and to do more to address the international aspects of the problem. One senator also called on the federal government to publish the names of people who solicit sex outside of their home states (Robillard, Politico, 12/5).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership