Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Role of State Policy to Combat Trafficking

In December 2008, Congress reauthorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a piece of federal legislation designed to fight human trafficking and protect victims and survivors. With this federal legislation in place, state-level officials may feel that state laws and policy are superfluous.

After doing various awareness raising, lobbying, and advocacy visits to state senators and representatives in Missouri, I know first-hand about this belief on their part. However, states have an incredibly important role to play in addressing human trafficking.

State legislation is necessary for a number of reasons. Perhaps most obviously, state anti-trafficking laws are needed for situations where cases cannot be prosecuted federally. Those situations tend to be rare, though, and state laws cannot stop there. Policy at the state level can address local contexts and needs in ways that federal policy cannot, and federal policy without state support is often mere rhetoric.

In her article “The Role of the State Attorney General in Combating Human Trafficking,” Johanna Coats acknowledges that state efforts have trailed federal efforts. She also argues that state-level policy and resources are needed for combating trafficking in persons, particularly for identifying victims. A 2007 State Report Card from the Center for Women Policy Studies, though, mainly gave out Fs to states for their anti-trafficking efforts (less than 4% were As).

At the same time, states have implemented innovative legislation to address human trafficking. In 2007, Texas passed a bill to require that all establishments that sell alcohol – aside from restaurants – post information about human trafficking and trafficking hotlines. This bill was introduced because so many victims were being transported through these establishments. Since one of the main challenges facing anti-trafficking work today is simply identifying victims, similar bills that take into consideration the local context could lead to great strides in finding and helping victims.

Minnesota State Rep. Lesch introduced a bill this session that would require public training and education about trafficking. States can and should take action, and in some cases they are; more efforts that are attuned to the local context are needed, though. Ultimately, states cannot abdicate responsibility for fighting human trafficking to the federal level. States are in a unique position to combat human trafficking, and I urge you to be informed about state policy and legislation, and to take action. Polaris Project and the Center for Women Policy Studies monitor human trafficking legislation, and both groups have more information about this topic.

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