A Look at State Laws That Help Combat Trafficking

An increase in the awareness of human trafficking in the United States means that more laws are being passed. Law enforcement agencies and state legislatures are moving to create and enforce laws to protect the victims and penalize traffickers. Human trafficking is illegal in all states but some states have more comprehensive laws than others. New anti-trafficking laws are being added on a regular basis.

Federal laws are in place. There have been two important movements in the federal system to help stop human trafficking: the establishment of the Trafficking and Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force. These are just two examples of agencies dedicated to finding ways to end human trafficking. However, these laws only affect the federal cases tried in federal courts. There needs to be equally stringent laws in the state courts to continue to stop human trafficking. In 2013 the Uniform Law Commission approved the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking, to provide guidelines to state legislatures as they draft new laws. States are urged to use these guidelines to establish consistency from state to state, which is important when you consider that many traffickers regularly cross state lines with their victims to evade law enforcement.

All 50 states have laws in effect that address the three main needs of any legislative action: the law needs to fight trafficking, punish traffickers and provide support to victims. However, some laws provide more support than others. For example, “safe harbor” laws are laws that provide protective conditions for minors that are victims of trafficking. With safe harbor laws, a minor cannot be charged as a criminal for any illegal activities that they may have been involved in while they were being held under a traffickers control.

According to a report published by the Polaris Project, the three states with the most complete and effective laws are Delaware, New Jersey, and Washington. What makes their laws so comprehensive, compared to other states? In Delaware, the law expands criminal penalties to cover people that utilize trafficking victims as forced labor or for sex in exchange for money. It also emphasizes providing law enforcement officers with the necessary tools to protect the victims and help them re-establish their life.

The bottom line is that in order to stop child trafficking traffickers need to know that the punishment for their crimes will be severe, making the risk versus reward much less and making trafficking, in general, a less attractive option for these criminals.

How can you help in this fight? Contact your state delegates and talk to them about the state laws currently in place. Share the facts as we know it: human trafficking is considered one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S., second only to drug trafficking, and it generates a profit of $150 billion annually. In the United States alone, 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk of being victims of sexual exploitation.  Urge your state representatives to be involved in this important mission. If you need help with next steps to take contact the Guardian Group.