HEADLINES: Trafficking

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Oklahoma has recently been listed by the US Department of State as one of the top trafficking states in the country.  This became starkly clear last year, “when the remains of 19-year-old Carina Saunders were found in a duffel bag discarded behind a grocery store.”  Reports of human trafficking have been on the rise throughout the country, but especially in Oklahoma, where the average age of recruitment is between 12 and 14.  In response to the growing issue, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has recently created a seven-agent unit dedicated exclusively to working with cases of human trafficking.  When asked about the unit, Darrell Weaver, the agency’s executive director, said, “Someone told me years ago that human trafficking could be larger than drug trafficking.  I did not want to believe them, but the more we look at this, it’s surely more troubling because of the victims.”  Oklahoma legislators are also making trafficking a greater priority, and they hope to take Oklahoma off the list top trafficking states. [Tulsaworld]

It can be easy to dismiss human trafficking as something that only happens in foreign countries or in urban poverty, but trafficking is an issue that affects the entire socio-economic scale.  Today, “sex trafficking has spread to wealthy suburbs as well as small rural towns.”  It is impossible to stereotype either the trafficked victims or the traffickers, and no one’s community is immune from this issue.  Former representative Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International said, “I was absolutely shocked when we started sending people into states posing as sex tourists, and they would go in, and they would come into the city maybe from another country, maybe another state, and they could buy kids so easily.”  Many states do not have the protection and services needed to fight against trafficking and provide for survivors.  There needs to be a greater emphasis in the government and in law enforcement on addressing human trafficking. [BussInsider]

Late last week, holding company Village Voice Media broke ties with backpage.com, a site known for running ads selling child prostitutes.  Backpage.com has come under fire repeatedly for their practices, and have been the subject of multiple lawsuits.  Backpage.com is not an illegal service, because under federal law, providing an online forum for illegal activity is not itself illegal.  Backpage.com will continue to be operated independently by two major shareholders of VVM.  Thus, while VVM”s decision to break ties with backpage.com is a good sign, “it’s only a hand slap, because the site hasn’t been shut down completely.  It is providing a platform; it’s creating a demand, and offering up a supply.”  Activists say that they will continue to fight against backpage.com until it is shut down. [Citizenlink]

This November, California voters will be deciding on proposition 35, which “would more than double sentences for human traffickers and impose life sentences for the sex trafficking of children.”  The measure has received a great deal of support and publicity, but some who work in the anti-trafficking field worry that it will lead to unintended negative consequences.  It might discourage prosecutors from filing cases under the new law, and may also lead to decreased funding for individual survivors.  John Vanek, a retired policeman who worked in the San Jose Human Trafficking Task Force, “also opposes setting different penalties for sex and labor trafficking, and argues that a jury – not voters – should decide the severity of a case.”  Many other activist organizations applaud the proposition, however, and are urging Californians to vote yes on the proposition. [Mercurynews]

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