Modern-day Slavery in the United States
Human trafficking is a global issue and is often referred as modern-day slavery, in the United States there is an estimate of 244,000 to 325,000 minors that are at risk for sexual exploitation, with an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of a minor. (In Our Backyard) These victims come from all walks of life, looking for love or hopes of a new life. Minor victims are vulnerable and considered an easy target by their traffickers. (Carpenter) As one trafficker explained, You make a dream and get them to believe you, and then it’s completely different from what you told them (qtd.in Carpenter) Many girls are deceived by false promises of love, and once hooked on the dream traffickers use physical and psychological abuse to break down the victims. These victims can create strong bonds between them and their abuser due to such trauma many victims do not realize they are victims. (Carpenter) In many states, these minors can often be charged with crimes committed due to the result of being trafficked. While laws are making stride in meeting the needs of the victims, there needs to be a unity of commitment between the states to provide funding for services and to protect victims from criminal liability.
In October of 2000, Congress made steps towards preventing human trafficking by enacting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA ) which states: To stop human trafficking into the sex trade, slavery and involuntary servitudeThe TVPA and other federal laws have established a substantial foundation for the prosecution of human trafficking offense in federal courts. (qtd.in Colquitt 1) As time progressed, the Uniform Law Commissions noticed several states legislative efforts Are not uniform across the country. In 2013, the Uniform Law Commissions (ULC ) was created to address three main parts of human trafficking: Prevention of human trafficking, prosecution of offenders and protection of victims. This Act was created as a guideline for states to create new models or expand on existing models. According to Colquitt, to date, the uniform act has been enacted by only 7 states, with the bill being introduced in three more states (Colquitt) While this law is a good start, it’s hard to create uniformity through the country when the contents of each state will vary.
One issue with the Uniform Act is the eight sections in the law that are optional, three of these sections are meant to help the victim. (Coliquitt) One of these optional sections provide immunity for minors against crimes committed during their time as a victim of human trafficking. The Uniform Act provides immunity to a minor for [prostitution] or [ insert other nonviolent offenses]. Thus, enacting states may choose the nonviolent crimes for which the minor actor will not be criminally liable Such safe harbor laws already exist in a number of states, but the crimes for which minor victims are immunized will vary by state. (Coliquitt) Without laws to protect these children who are sexually exploited they are often viewed as criminals and are arrested and convicted with prostitution. (Human Trafficking Issue Brief) Safe Harbor Laws were created to help address the inconsistences with how minors are treated and to provide protection and services. According to (lost article) Twenty states and the district of Columbia have legislated immunity for youth, meaning minors cannot be charged with certain statutory specific crimes. (article)
Laws vary by state, some provide immunity to everyone under 18, while some require proof that the child was a trafficking survivor. (lost) Some argue with the misconception that some minors can willingly and consensually engage in commercial sex. (Shared Hope) Which leads to several states being reluctant to no criminal laws. Some state law enforcements and prosecutors oppose removing criminal liability for minors because they believe charging the victim is an effective way in getting the minor to testify against their trafficker. Despite their beliefs, evidence shows, this strategy goes against the evidence that a survivors’ cooperation in an investigation actually improves when the survivor, instead of being criminalized is able to access services and build rapport with law enforcements and prosecutors. (Shared Hope) Other concerns with the Safe Harbor laws were expressed during a comprehensive study of the nine states that were enacted into the Safe Harbor Law in 2012. (Barnet et al. 254)
During the study there was no consensus on the best approach when comparing the models of decimalization-only, diversion-only, and decriminalization plus models. (Barnet et al. 254) While many supported decriminalization-plus-diversions, a few expressed fears that these laws may be dangerous if passed without first creating diversion placement options. (Barnet et al. 254) Many issues revolve around lack of funding, the fines prescribed in Safe Harbor laws are meant to raise funds for victim services but has not reached service providers. (Barnert et al. 256) Some described lack of funds related to legal actions pursued, which can happen due to plea bargaining or charges being dropped. Because of this, some are states are worried that if they don’t have proper placement for the victims they will not be safe. (Barnet et al. 256) Another argument among the group included the question if placement for victims needed to be locked.
A few felt that secure placements were needed, while a majority felt secure placements were unjust and unnecessary. (Barnert et al. 258) Combat against human trafficking is a complicated matter. While there is no quick fix to this epidemic, local and state responders need to act together to protect victims against criminalization and potential further traumatization. By providing training to help recognize victims of trafficking, to provide established services and homes for these victims, and to create immunity for these victims against criminal liability, these victims can have a base and hope to start a new life. These victims are often treated as criminals and without laws to protect them, they can easily fall back into the world of human trafficking. When convicted of these crimes, those charges follow the victim for the rest of their life. Which can prevent them from affordable safe housing in safe neighbor hoods, While Safe Harbor laws are making stride in meeting the needs of victims, for this to be effective, there needs to be a commitment to funding programs that will help, protect and improve these traumatized victims’ lives.