Last week more than 100 teenagers, mostly girls aged 13–17, were rescued in 76 cities throughout the U.S.
A week after more than 100 teenagers, mostly girls ages 13–17, were rescued in 76 cities throughout the U.S. as part of a nationwide child sex trafficking bust, lawmakers in several states are once again pushing legislation to protect human trafficking victims.
In New York, State Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R) has called on the Assembly to return to the capitol and pass the Women’s Equality Act, which would allow a person charged with prostitution to use the defense that they were a human trafficking victim.
The legislation would also increase the penalties for human trafficking, create new offenses for people who pay for sex for patronizing a minor, and would create a civil action for victims of trafficking against the perpetrators.
“The New York State Assembly can no longer ignore this critical issue,” said Skelos. “It’s time for the speaker to bring his members back to Albany and join us in passing a women’s equality agenda for New York, and to protect the innocent victims of sex trafficking. No more politics, no more stalling. The New York Democratic Party needs to wake up and help us achieve a positive resolution now.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, as many as 300,000 American children are at risk of becoming sex trafficking victims. Reports from Shared Hope International, an organization working to eradicate sex trading, says that children usually become prostitutes around the age of 13 and that more than 50 percent of sex trafficking victims were classified as runaway youth living on the street.
The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota reported that on average, girls are sold for sex five times a day using the Internet and escort services, and that number does not include any sexual acts occurring at a hotel, on the street or as part of gang activity.
Since human trafficking has become a growing epidemic in South Carolina, the state recently passed a law that gives government and law enforcement agencies better tools to address the situation, such as creating a Human Trafficking Task Force. The newly created task force brings together law enforcement agencies, victims’ advocates and other state agencies, to not only work to prosecute these crimes, but to prevent them as well.
According to South Carolina’s Attorney General Alan Wilson, “Slavery is alive and well in this country, and it is alive and well in South Carolina, and I believe we need to do everything we can to eradicate it. We have to train ourselves, not just the prosecutors but the judicial branches of government and the regulatory branches of government.”
Part of the new laws in South Carolina include training for officials who may encounter teenage prostitutes while inspecting buildings. Wilson said historically many of these inspectors lack the training on how to respond.
“You’ve got a case where someone is walking into a business to do an inspection and in the back of that business they see a half-naked 12-year-old girl running around; they don’t have the training to know what to do,” he said.
A July 2013 report from the National Colloquium on Shelter and Services for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victims, the human trafficking industry in the U.S. alone is worth about $9.8 billion.
Each year Shared Hope International rates a state’s current legislation to illustrate which states have the strongest laws in the U.S. when it comes to combating human trafficking.
Taryn Mastrean is the director of communications for Shared Hope International. She told Mint Press News that the ratings are based on 41 different components related to domestic sex trafficking and do not look at the number of human trafficking victims or how the laws are implemented — it’s just “what’s on the books.”
Based on that information, the organization found Louisiana had the strongest human trafficking legislation in the U.S. with a score of 87 percent. None of the states received an “A” rating.
The lowest scoring states included Wyoming, Hawaii and California. Mastrean said that just because a state had a low score or received an “F” doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing efforts going on in the state to prevent and prosecute human trafficking.
New York received a “D” grade, as the state received a score of 62 out of 100. In its report, the group summarized the state’s rating by saying that the state’s laws only protect minors under 14 and people who pay to have sex with minors receive low penalties. The state sex trafficking law requires proof that force, fraud or coercion was used when the victim is a minor. Minors who are arrested for prostitution in New York are presumed to be trafficking victims and are placed in safe houses.
South Carolina also received a “D” grade, with a score of 65.5 out of 100. But after implementing its new laws, it may receive a better score next year.
The group explained the state’s rating by saying that the state’s human trafficking law does identify sex trafficking of minors and provides an affirmative defense for victims, but proof that force was used to get the individual into the trafficking industry is needed. Another concern was that minor victims were not placed in safe houses.