“ The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of people who won’t do anything about it…”
~ Albert Einstein
Myriad of topics were debated for my first foray into the blogging world, but ultimately my desire to share information on human trafficking won out. Of course when most people in the United States hear of human trafficking their first response is to relegate it to developing countries and espouse N.I.M.B.Y. (Not In My Back Yard). However, human trafficking knows no boundaries and outside of the drug trade is tied for the second most profitable criminal business. An understanding of the definition of human trafficking is necessary prior to discussing the issue any further.
Human trafficking involves the use of coercion, force, or fraud, to propel an individual into labor or sexual exploitation. Each year an estimated 17,000 are trafficked into the United States with women and children comprising 80% of the victims. Nevertheless, it is not only individuals trafficked into the U.S. as it must be noted that over 100,000 American children are forced to engage in prostitution each year, their vulnerability preyed upon by pimps and “Johns”. The lack of awareness in the United States is contributing to the continuation of this lucrative crime.
I am currently a U.S. Prevention & Advocacy intern with Love146, an organization fighting for the abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation. This organization was a crucial player in the passing of the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act in Connecticut that will take effect October 1, 2010. A Safe Harbor Act addresses the contradiction of involving the Juvenile Justice system in the handling of children engaging in prostitution. In Connecticut the legal age for consensual sex is 16 yet a person under the age of 16 found to be engaging in prostitution was normally sent to a juvenile detention facility. Treating a child who has endured an immense amount of suffering and abuse as a criminal does not make any sense. The new act taking effect in October does not decriminalize prostitution but rather prevents a person under 16 years of age from being charged with the act. Similarly, a person age 16 or 17 is presumed to be a victim of human trafficking. Victims of sexual exploitation are instead channeled to protective shelters to receive necessary assistance prior to their reintegration into society. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) recently hosted a hearing titled “In Our Own Backyard: Child Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the United States” , and in the opening remark stated “We have created a legal dichotomy in America in which the federal government views prostituted children as victims, yet most states treat them as criminals.” The consequences upon the well-being of a child of sexual exploitation merit a reconsideration of the current legislation in many states which treat children as criminals rather than victims.
Missouri anti-trafficking legislation, which passed in 2006, aligns itself with the 2000 federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) by defining a person under the age of 18 who has been “recruited, transported, harbored, provided, or obtained for purpose of a commercial sex act” as a victim of human trafficking. However, in Missouri, a minor can be treated as a criminal if drug abuse is involved. Due consideration is not given to the factors involving a youth’s drug involvement, such as force from a pimp or as a coping mechanism while on the street. This grave oversight is compounded by the unavailability of beds in protective shelters resulting in youth placement in juvenile detention centers ill equipped to address their needs. It is apparent the 214 beds available in Missouri’s juvenile justice system, of which only 25 are for girls, are not the proper place for sexually exploited children.
I would love to see Missouri expand the social services available to sexually exploited youth yet human trafficking appears under the radar at the moment. Nevertheless, Missouri has taken promising steps in the past few years to combat human trafficking.
- The Missouri Anti-Human Trafficking Law (2006) renders the crime of sex trafficking of a child.under the age of 18 a Class A Felony punishable by a penalty of death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment of 20 years or more.
- In May 2010, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster joined Connecticut and other states in issuing a subpoena to Craigslist for failure to stop advertising for prostitution.
- HB2449 , sponsored by State Senator Mark Parkinson, addresses human trafficking within the context of illegal immigration. The passage of this legislation would significantly assist with anti-human trafficking efforts yet Missouri must not only focus on human trafficking from the lens of immigration.
A multi-pronged strategy with a focus on prevention, prosecution, and protection is needed to address domestic human trafficking. Do your part by educating yourself on the issue and spreading the word.
In the time it has taken you to read this blog post, over 8 children have been victims of human trafficking.