Shared Hope International and the American Center for Law and Justice, both non-profits, released a report, Protected Innocence Challenge, late last year. The organizations graded each state based on its legislation on sex trafficking of minors and are pushing for tougher provisions.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia received a letter grade of F: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. No state received a letter grade of A.
Linda Smith, president and founder of Shared Hope, said children who are arrested for prostitution often lose the right to victims’ services.
“What we say is, ‘Do what you have to do on your way to making your law right, aggressively network your services so that you use what you have, train everyone on how to treat the child as a victim wherever they materialize … and then start working to that point of decriminalization,’” Smith said.
According to a report published in April 2011 by the Department of Justice, 2,515 incidents of human trafficking were reported between January 2008 and June 2010. Of those incidents, 82 percent were cases of suspected sex trafficking, 1,000 of which included allegations of child exploitation.
The states’ grades are based on six key policy principles and laws: sex trafficking of minors, demand, traffickers, facilitators, protection for child victims and better tools for investigation and prosecution.
Although states vary in the amount of human trafficking, the study took into consideration only the states’ laws.
The State Department defines human trafficking, or modern slavery, as “obtaining or holding a person in compelled service.”
“I would challenge anybody that says their state doesn’t have a problem,” Nancy Winston, senior director of Shared Hope, said. “I think people just haven’t recognized a problem, and if it isn’t recognized in law then it will never be recognized.”
Jane White, director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, said the state deserves its failing grade. The state relies on federal officials to prosecute trafficking cases.
“So far, Michigan does not have those things listed in law. … Those things need to be corrected,” White said.
Wyoming received the lowest score, with Hawaii and California tied second to lowest.
Seven states scored a B: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Washington and Illinois – which received the highest score.
Virginia McCrimmon, a crime victims’ services specialist in El Paso, Texas, worked for the El Paso County Sheriff’s department until September. She now works independently, mainly providing help to workers who are victims of trafficking.
“Considering we just started our program in 2005 – I’m speaking for the El Paso side – I think because of the way we have networked with other cities, we deserve an A grade,” McCrimmon, said.
Reach reporter Jasmine Aguilera at email@example.com or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.