HEADLINES: Trafficking

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The New Jersey Legislature will soon vote on the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act.  The act “would create a 15-member state commission on human trafficking, expand the list of offenses related to trafficking and increase protection for victims, including vacating prior prostitution convictions for minors found to have been victims of trafficking. It would also tighten penalties on those who fail to verify that advertisers on their sites are not minors, and expand training for law enforcement officials.” Human trafficking is an important issue in New Jersey because of its geographical position as a transportation hub. Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking NGO, received over 100 calls from New Jersey on their trafficking victim’s hotline just in the first quarter of this year. Some New Jersey legislators, including Vainieri Huttle, the sponsor of this bill, would like to see anti-trafficking laws in the state become even tougher in the future. [SFGate]

In a new initiative, Tampa, a city that has long struggled with human trafficking, is targeting its massage parlors in an effort to combat the practice. This marks “the city’s first attempt to control the massage businesses that frequently operate for 24 hours a day and that some civil rights groups say keep their all-female staff in indentured servitude.” Many massage parlors also serve as fronts for prostitution rings. Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Kirk is proposing to the city council that new legislation be enacted limiting the amount of hours massage parlors can be open. She hopes that this could eliminate late night business activities that often times lead to prostitution. The action would also ban people from living at the businesses, which would also hopefully effectively combat trafficking. [Tampa Bay Online]

A coalition of Wichita-based anti-trafficking agencies received a $300,000 federal grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, a Department of Justice entity, to ramp up their efforts to combat human trafficking. The “grant will be used to help 13 to 22 year olds of both genders, most of whom are victims of sexual assault, stalking, trafficking, and other problems.” Runaways are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. The grant would allow for significant development in “counseling, advocacy, medical and other services” for victims of trafficking. [Wichita Eagle]

Proposition 35 in California continues to be divisive among those working against human trafficking. The “ballot initiative would rewrite state law to clarify that children who are coerced into the sex trade be considered victims and not criminals. If passed, the initiative would increase penalties for convicted human traffickers and generate money for organizations that assist victims of the crime.” Opponents of the bill argue that it is not written carefully enough and that it could lead to unintended negative consequences. Floyd Feeney, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, said, “you need to do these things not with a meat ax, but with a scalpel. People want to show how ‘pro-victims’ they are, so they throw stuff together, they don’t really craft it in a careful way, and it winds up being totally ineffective or doing more harm than good.” Proponents of the bill see it as a much needed emphasis on protections and prevention of human trafficking in the state. California voters will decide on the ballot measure in the general election on November 6th.   [The Sacramento Bee]

While trafficking across borders is a huge issue in today’s world, human trafficking in the United States has become an increasingly serious domestic problem. Girls, often in their early teens, are being trafficked all over the country, even in wealthy suburban or remote rural areas. Traffickers too are becoming younger and younger, as trafficking is often conducted within schools, and perpetrators, “can be other students or gang members who manipulate victims’ weaknesses by telling them they will be beautiful strippers and escorts but later ply them with drugs and force them into sex schemes.”  Organizations like Fair Girls, a DC-based anti-trafficking NGO, have educational campaigns within schools to combat trafficking. The U.S. Department of Education has also placed a renewed emphasis on instructing staff and teachers how to recognize and combat trafficking in their schools. Fighting human trafficking in the educational sphere is critical to a comprehensive approach to the issue. [USA Today]

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