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Conference Call: Polaris Project Releases State Ratings for 2012

Yesterday we were on our way from meetings in Las Vegas, NV to Salt Lake City, UT. We had a few meetings in the morning, but were able to call into a phone conference hosted by the Polaris Project regarding the release of their 2012 state human trafficking Law ratings. You can access the ratings here: Polaris Project 2012 State Ratings Map

The organization recognized Massachusetts (MA) as the most improved state in terms of state anti-trafficking laws and implementation. Although MA was late to the game, they passed their first law in November 2011, which went into effect February 2012. The states anti-trafficking law has a large component focused on strengthening penalties against the buyers of commercial sex to crack down on individuals who buy sex with individuals who have been trafficked (forced, deceived, or coerced) into their situation. The state’s law initiated a task force which addresses the issue of human trafficking in MA through policy change and enforcement. The task force trains law enforcement, as well as service providers. MA is considered to be on of the most improved states due to their enforcement of this law. MA state actors have already begun to arrest and charge traffickers under the anti-human trafficking law, whereas many states that have had laws in place for years still have yet to see any traffickers prosecuted under their statutes.

One example of this is Arkansas, which passed its first law in 2005 and has not seen one prosecution for human trafficking. Unfortunately, the current statutes are not strong enough and actors within the state need further education on how to identify cases and utilize these laws. It is now up to those states which are ‘lagging behind’ to reassess their laws and see what must be done to strengthen the statutes and ensure enforcement.

Martha Coakley, Attorney General of Massachusetts, spoke on the conference call and discussed her states actions to combat Human Trafficking.

We both were able to attend MA’s second task force meeting in April and connected with many actors involved in statewide efforts of law enforcement, prevention and victim services. The task force may be newly developed following the passage of the states first human trafficking law, but social services have been working on this issue for years, if not decades already. It is great to see that efforts are now moving to higher levels within state and federal agencies.

One individual asked Attorney General Coakley why this issue must be addressed by state level law enforcement. AG Coakley responded that there is a need to have certain tools on the books to investigate and charge people with trafficking on the state level (rather than just the federal level), as well as bring in other resources that the state can use to combat trafficking.

We see that even if law enforcement can build stronger cases when charging human traffickers with other crimes, such as drug dealing, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling, etc. – not necessarily specific to human trafficking – there is still a need to have state level human trafficking laws and ensure there is a system set up to ensure resources are allocated for victims.

James Dold, Policy Councel for the Polaris Project, also spoke about the moves that West Virginia (WV) has been making. Actors in WV passed their first anti-trafficking law in 2011. Dold explained the process which they took to reach out to actors who they relied upon to help pass the statute. This process started about six months before the law was to be presented. They put in efforts to ensure the WV state law ran somewhat parallel with the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This ‘parallel’ focus is something that many states have failed to capture when translating federal policies into state policies. Passing these stronger laws is a long process, but the process has proven to be successful. West Virginia was recognized as one of the most improved states in 2012.

Holly Austin Smith was also a guest speaker on the conference call. Ms. Smith is a Marine Biologist, a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking and an advocate for educating youth on this issue. She also writes a column in the Washington Post OpEd section. After telling her story of how she managed to exit her trafficking situation she explained that she had received no care specifically for commercially sexually exploited youth. Instead she recovered with the help of an addiction facility for minors and the guidance of her teachers upon returning to school. Ms. Smith emphasized the importance of educating our school teachers, counselors and nurses to ensure that they are aware of what might be happening with their students. They must have to tools to identify possible victims of child commercial sexual exploitation, as well as to know what actions they must take if they do identify cases.

On the call there was also a brief discussion on the importance of training professionals in criminal justice, public health, etc. on these crimes. The Polaris Project has standardized trainings available on their website for training a variety of professions. However, these trainings should always be re-formated to best fit the system of each community.

Overall, it was an interesting conference call and provided a basic overview of how much work the U.S. still has to do when it comes to combating human trafficking. See below for a few highlights from the Polaris Project’s Human Trafficking State Rating System Report

From Polaris Project Website

State Ratings Statistics

  • 28 states (55%) passed new laws to fight human trafficking in the past year.
  • As of July 31, 2012, 21 states are now rated in Tier 1 (7+ points), up from 11 states in 2011. Washington received 11 points, the most of any state.
  • Four states are “Most Improved”: Massachusetts increased by 12 points, South Carolina by 8 points, West Virginia by 6 points, and Ohio by 5 points.
  • Four states — the “Faltering Four” — are now rated in Tier 4: Wyoming, Arkansas, Montana, and South Dakota. Last year, 9 states were in the bottom tier – the “Nine Lagging Behind.”
  • Wyoming has yet to pass any human trafficking law and received -2 points, the lowest number of any state.
  • 17 states, or one third of states, increased their rating by at least one tier compared to the 2011 ratings map.
  • Polaris Project began tracking and mapping the progress of state anti-trafficking laws in 2007 when only 28 states had anti-trafficking criminal statutes. As of July 31, 2012, the number of states with anti-trafficking criminal statutes, including the District of Columbia, has grown to 48 with sex trafficking offenses and 50 with labor trafficking offenses.
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