January 26, 2016
Human trafficking happens everywhere. The data is alarming. The Polaris Project announced over 25 million individuals, internationally, are victims. Of those, 1 million are sexually exploited children. Human trafficking is a significant industry. Some estimates say traffickers make over $31 billion a year in profits.
The United States is a way station for people caught up in sex trafficking. Each year nearly 17,000 people, principally women, and children, are shipped to America.
The U.S. Department of State started watching human trafficking in the mid-90s. Initially, the review concentrated on women and girls trafficked as sexual objects. Over the years, the coverage has expanded and now watches trafficking in men, women and children for all kinds of forced labor: agriculture, residential service, construction work, sweatshops as well as sexual exploitation.
In Nevada, 2,230 victims of human trafficking have been rescued since 1994. In 2014, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department recovered over 100 children duped by human traffickers.
When the 77th Nevada Legislature met, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto directed a campaign to end human trafficking in the state. Masto introduced and championed passage of Assembly Bill 67 which fixed the crime of sex trafficking of children and adults, made victims qualified for State assistance and allows victims to sue their traffickers.
The Assembly Bill made some progressive changes to the outdated statutes. A few of the changes include:
- Using the federal interpretation of sex trafficking was to strengthen penalties by one sentencing level.
- Creating law enforcement mechanisms for improved tracking of racketeering, collusion, and wiretapping.
- Allowed for those adjudged guilty as traffickers to have to register as a sex offender, and their assets taken, sold and presented as relief to the victims.
- Made sure restitution is obligatory with the understanding the victim may now bring a civil cause of action.
- Allows the prosecution to protect the victim’s statement at trial.
With the passage of the nation’s tightest sex trafficking laws, Nevada law enforcement has stepped up pressure and cities such as Las Vegas are starting to aggressively pursue sex traffickers.
Most states have fallen behind Nevada’s progress stance. Criminalization contributes to the inability for victims to leave sex work or law enforcement to end trafficking. Sex workers are forced into clandestine lives where they are compelled to work for pimps in exchange for protection, something the police fail to provide. Many desire another life, but don’t know how to get out. Others have concluded this is their trail in life, and they are doomed and destined to walk it. None of them deserve arrest or abuse.
Sex traffickers tell people that they will be caught and looked upon as “dirty prostitutes” if escape is successful. The courts don’t realize that by indicting sex workers, likely victims become too afraid to come forth — even if they are reluctant sacrifices.
Criminalization contributes to a vicious cycle. A cycle that women are economically forced into living a story, they don’t want. Companies in the “formal” economy choose not to hire anybody convicted of a violation.
The horror story of sex workers forced into the trade by traffickers is best seen in Suzanne’s story.
Suzanne didn’t expect her life to take the route it has taken. When she was 17, she found a man on Facebook who promised to take care of her after her mom was incarcerated. Feeling there waas nowhere else to turn, Suzanne found herself sold to men from Washington, DC. to California Alone and away from home, she had no way to get away. She couldn’t refuse to work without jeopardizing her corporeal security.
It wasn’t until the police targeted her trafficker in a brothel raid that she was able to escape. Even though she testified against the trafficker, she was arrested, and the prostitution charges remain on her record.
Even when she got away from her pimp, Suzanne felt she was left without options in rebuilding a healthy life. Her capture made it close to impossible to get a job, and she didn’t feel like she could return to domestic life — even when she finally had a home to which to return. She wound up back in sex work. The years of abuse made her feel that’s all she was qualified for.
Eventually, Suzanne got in touch with Free, Aware, Inspired, Restored (FAIR) Girls. FAIR is a nonprofit providing housing and crucial care to survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation.
Despite weeks of working with FAIR Girls and a pro bono lawyer trying to get her record expunged, she was directed by the state court to do community service and capitulate to regular, state-administered STD testing.
Suzanne viewed the humiliation of community service and regular health screening as part of her punishment. She also views it as the price of having a opportunity for a normal life, notwithstanding being a victim.
Policies that concentrate solely on the commercial sex industry ignore the large numbers of survivors and victims who are driven into construction, agriculture, factories, and other fields. Enhancing the penalties on prostitution laws fail to address the victim who is trapped.