“Why doesn’t she leave?”

Leslie Morgan Steiner
Leslie Morgan Steiner

Leslie Morgan Steiner, a Harvard graduate, journalist, and best selling author, met “Connor” on the New York City subway when she was 22.  He sat next to her on the train, and began “chatting her up.” With his big apple cheeks and wheat-blond hair, he charmed her; he was sweet, funny, intelligent, and a Ivy League-educated young man who loved his job at an impressive Wall Street bank. “There was not a hint of anger, control, or violence in Connor,” she said.

Morgan Steiner fell deeply in love, and married him. What followed was a relationship that evolved into a chilling nightmare, filled with horrific abuse.

She proclaims herself as a “typical” domestic violence victim because of her age and because she knew nothing about domestic violence’s warning signs and patterns.

Despite having guns held to her head so many times that she cannot count, pushed down the stairs, and beaten one to two times a week for two years, she did not know Connor was abusing her. “I thought I was a strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only one on earth who could help Connor face his demons,” Morgan Steiner said.

In her TED Talk, Morgan Steiner, describing the horror which became her life, said that victims are often cast as “self-destructive women and damaged goods.”

She also answered the question: “Why doesn’t she just leave?” For her, this is the saddest, most painful question people ask―often code for “It’s her fault for staying,” she said. “We victims know something you usually don’t: It’s incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser because the final step in the domestic violence pattern is ‘Kill her,'” she stated. Statistics report that more than 70 percent of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship, after she has gotten out, because then the abuser has nothing left to lose,” according to Morgan Steiner.

She tells us that you and I have the power to end domestic violence simply by shining a spot light on it. “Victims need everyone of you to understand the secrets of domestic violence,” she urged. “Show  abuse the light of day by talking about it with your children, your co-workers, your friends and family; recast survivors as wonderful, lovable people with full futures; recognize the early signs of violence and conscientiously intervene, de-escalate it, and show victims a safe way out,” she urged.

Listen to Morgan Steiner’s powerful TED Talk.

By: Susan L. Banovetz, director of communications, The Advocates for Human Rights

Dennis McGuire’s Execution: A Real-Life — or Real-Death — Example of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment

Dennis McGuire’s Execution: A Real-Life — or Real-Death — Example of Cruel and Inhuman Punishment

Death Penalty Image for CCOhio officials put Dennis McGuire to death this week using a new two-drug combination that had never been tested. Ohio’s experiment with the new two-drug injection is a real-life — or real-death — example of what can go wrong when states are allowed to execute people using untested and dubious execution methods.

In arguments prior to the execution, McGuire’s attorneys warned that the drug combination could cause a state of terror for him because their client would experience “air hunger” in his struggle to breathe. Witnesses to the execution report that McGuire made loud snorting noises and gasped and struggled for air for about 20 minutes until he died.

“Shortly after the warden buttoned his jacket to signal the start of the execution, my dad began gasping and struggling to breathe,” McGuire’s daughter, Amber McGuire, is reported to have said. “I watched his stomach heave. I watched him try to sit up against the straps on the gurney. I watched him repeatedly clench his fist. It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.”

The majority of the 32 death penalty states in the U.S. and the U.S. federal government use lethal injection as the primary means to execute prisoners. Contrary to what was administered to McGuire, these governments have traditionally used a three-drug combination to put people to death. But now, governments are resorting to new combinations because the drugs needed for the three-drug injection are difficult to obtain. The drugs’ sources are drying up, caused by foreign government regulations, European Union restrictions placed on the supply, and drug corporations’ positions.

As these drugs have become increasingly harder to obtain, states have begun using other drugs to administer a lethal dose. In turn, pharmaceutical companies have refused to supply these drugs for execution purposes in the U.S.

States are turning to questionable sources—including compounding pharmacies selling drugs that are not FDA-approved—to get the drugs they need to execute people. Obtaining execution drugs that are outside of federal regulation increases the risk of tampering and reduced drug efficacy; this increases the probability of cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment during an execution, a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

Moreover, several states passed secrecy laws to conceal the identities of their drug suppliers, thus allowing states to withhold critical information from detainees and their families who seek assurances about the drugs’ quality and effectiveness.

Lethal injection has come under constitutional challenge in a number of states for its potential to cause cruel and unusual punishment. Most notably, Kentucky’s three-drug combination came under fire in 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that its lethal injection method does not qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

Since the Kentucky ruling, U.S. states have faced new challenges in lethal injection because of the clamp down on the drug supply. Lethal injection in the U.S. has now turned into a cat-and-mouse game, with states attempting to procure execution drugs from an international community determined to keep the drugs out of the states’ possession, leading states to turn to untested and uncharted drug protocols as alternatives.

Regardless of whether a three-drug injection or, in the case of McGuire, a two-drug injection is used, there is much concern that these injections cause cruel and inhuman punishment.

McGuire’s gruesome death is a visible, gruesome testimonial that lethal injection is on the path toward cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“No one should die the way my dad did, no matter the circumstances,” said McGuire’s daughter, according to reports.

Hours after the execution, Terry Collins, who served as the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections from 2006 to 2010 and oversaw 33 executions, said that the suffocation execution of McGuire shines the spotlight on the unworkable nature of the problems in the death house. “The experiment has failed and that is plainly obvious,” he said.

The Advocates for Human Rights has submitted a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, detailing how the death penalty in the U.S. violates basic human rights, including the right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In its update to the United Nations for the U.S.’s upcoming review in March, The Advocates will include information about McGuire’s execution. It is important that the Human Rights Committee is apprised of this alarming development by which a state is willing to expose a human being to such agony and terror in the interests of executing them.

By: Attorney Rosalyn Park, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of research, represents The Advocates on the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty steering committee. She chairs the Working Group for World Day Against the Death Penalty and is active on several other working groups. Before beginning work with The Advocates, Rosalyn interned with Anti-Slavery International in London as an Upper Midwest International Human Rights Fellow.

The Advocates Leads Momentum in Mongolia to Keep Women Safe

IMG_5720
The Advocates at work in Mongolia
on a fact-finding mission.

The Advocates for Human Rights is in Mongolia this week to release a report and to lead presentations on that country’s efforts to combat domestic violence.

One in three women in Mongolia was a victim of domestic violence in 2010, according to an estimate of the National Center Against Violence (NCAV), headquartered in Ulaabaatar, Mongolia. This statistic mirrors the United Nations’ finding that as many as 70 percent of women are victims of violence at some point in their lives.

Developed by The Advocates and its partner, NCAV, the report, “Implementation of Mongolia’s Domestic Violence Legislation,” analyzes the real-life results that followed the Mongolian government’s enactment of the Law to Combat Domestic Violence (LCDV) in 2004. The report’s findings and recommendations are being discussed this week with Mongolian parliamentarians, Ministry of Justice officials, prosecutors, judges, and the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia and embassy personnel.

“Yesterday’s meeting at Parliament was extraordinary,” says Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program and the report’s lead researcher and author. Seven parliament members were present, including chair people of the key committees that will be hearing proposed domestic violence legislation. Representatives of every government sector participated, and there was an impressive turn out of police, prosecutors, judges, social workers, teachers, and others.

“In particular, officials recognize the need for government agencies to be given specific responsibilities for the law’s implementation,” she says. “There was also recognition that the cause of domestic violence is attitudes toward women, not alcohol or the other ‘reasons’ typically given.”

The timing of the report’s release and the presentations is fitting; a particularly gruesome domestic violence murder shook the nation in December. Responding to the brutality, the president of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, delivered a powerful speech in which he labeled domestic violence a “scourge,” and pointed to the need for government sectors to take responsibility for combating it. President Elbegdorj reasserted his pledge in his New Year’s greeting to the country, promising that work to eliminate domestic violence will be a priority in 2014.

Also on the docket is a meeting with the United States Ambassador Piper Anne Wind Campbell and other U.S. embassy officials.

“It is so gratifying to see how our work is contributing to the sweeping momentum to make the necessary changes to finally achieve safety for women in Mongolia,” says Rubenstein.

To study the LCDV’s effects, The Advocates and NCAV led two fact-finding missions in January and March 2013, traveling to seven cities in Mongolia and conducting 137 interviews, including with ministry officials, non-governmental organizations, victims, social workers, police, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, governors, and health care workers.

The report outlines additional steps needed to protect women and to hold perpetrators accountable. Specifically, it points to challenges obtaining restraining orders; the consequences of domestic violence not being directly addressed by penal legislation; the barriers the country’s Family Law poses to obtaining a divorce; and the consequences of the lack of shelters and essential social services and support for women.

While the LCDV contains many provisions for restraining orders to protect women, only a few restraining orders have been issued in Mongolia since the law took effect in 2005, according to the NCAV. Barriers impeding the issuance of restraining orders include:

  • Pervasive lack of knowledge about domestic violence;
  • Legal and procedural hurdles that make the restraining order process difficult, if not impossible;
  • Lack of process for enforcing restraining orders and a lack of consequences for violating them.

In addition, offenders are not held accountable because domestic violence is not directly addressed by current penal legislation. Moreover, government actors do not place a priority on pursuing domestic violence offenses.

The report goes on to say that “[t]he futility of restraining orders and the lack of an effective criminal justice response lead victims to seek alternatives to be safe. Many women see divorce as a primary, and often the only, solution to domestic violence.” However, Mongolia’s Family Law poses barriers for a woman trying to obtain a divorce to escape domestic violence, including:

  • Divorce is not an option for women who are pregnant or have a child under the age of one year;
  • Many women find the cost of divorce prohibitive;
  • Before granting a divorce, judges are allowed to impose a three-month reconciliation period for a couple. The reconciliation is eliminated by law where there is threat to life, however, judges do not consistently screen for domestic violence, nor is domestic violence necessarily discovered when a screening is conducted. Moreover, some judges impose a reconciliation period even if domestic violence is reported, creating serious safety concerns for victims.

“Now is the time to take the additional measures set forth in the report to more fully achieve victim safety and to ensure offender accountability,” Rubenstein states. “We urge the government of Mongolia to execute the report’s recommendations to continue this vital work.”

Working with Rubenstein in Mongolia is Aviva Breen, a board member with The Advocates.

The Open Society Institute and the Sigrid Rausing Trust provided financial support for the report’s production.

By: Helen Rubenstein, deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Women’s Human Rights Program, and Susan L. Banovetz, the organization’s communication director.

Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475

Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.
(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town.  He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.”  One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint.  The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man.  In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.”  In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him.  “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.

This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The submission  draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which  provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.[1]

Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family.  Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her.[2] Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues.[3]  Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.

Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28.[4]  In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result.  She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings.  DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist.  Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.[5]

Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475  from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code,[6] victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490.[7] In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.[8]

In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man.  She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations.  She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association.  The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.[9]

Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco.  While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,[10]the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.[11]Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing.  In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized.[12]  In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted.  33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16[13].  The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls.[14] The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted.  Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.[15]

In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise.[16]  Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery.  Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty.  At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing.  Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.[17]

Although bills have been introduced in the Moroccan Parliament that would amend or abrogate Article 475, no final action has been taken on them to date.[18]   In addition, in spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government has made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors.  For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.”[19]  The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”[20]

In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”[21]

On January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.   While this is a positive step, the Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls.   Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:

  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish the Article 475 provision that allows a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution by marrying his victim.
  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
  • Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
  • Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
  • Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
  • Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.

In addition, we recommend that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child further investigate the issue of marriage of minor girls, as well as the role Article 475 plays in instances of sexual abuse involving minors.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director and director of the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights


[1]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111)  à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.

available at http://adala.justice.gov.ma/FR/Legislation/TextesJuridiques.aspx.

[3]See, e.g.,http://www.illionweb.com/larticle-475-tue-toujours/, http://www.illionweb.com/bouchra-victime-gang/, and http://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/21035/tetouan-fille-suicide-apres-avoir.html.  In addition, one association working with MRA reported that their region of Morocco alone, three girls married under Art. 475 had recently tried to kill themselves. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[4]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).  In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor.  A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »)art. 490.

[7]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10] Dahir n° 1-04-22 du 12 hija 1424 (3 février 2004) portant promulgation de la loi n° 70-03 portant Code de la Famille («Family Code ») art. 19.

[11] The authorization is not subject to appeal. Id. art. 20.  Article 21 also requires the legal tutor’s (guardian’s) consent.Id. art. 21.

[13]Id.  Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level.  One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors.  Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[15]Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).

[16]Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).

[17]Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).

[18]In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and  transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013.  This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code.  A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms.  Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013.  The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills.  A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html.  Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475.  http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.html www.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM

[19]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

[20]Idpara. 112.

[21]U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).

Minnesota Anti-Trafficking Model Inspires Federal Legislation

Sex Trafficked Woman

Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act in 2011, laying the groundwork for a victim-centered response to sexually exploited children and those at risk of sexual exploitation. The Advocates for Human Rights knew when we drafted the Safe Harbor Act that it marked a sea change in how sexually exploited youth are treated in Minnesota by identifying these kids as victims of crimes, rather than criminal perpetrators.

What we didn’t imagine was how quickly real change would happen.

We now rightly (albeit not often enough) question the assumptions that permit prostitution to exist: that prostitution is a consensual transaction between willing participants and that men have a right to have sex. These assumptions were put so succinctly by Michael Smirconish in his 2011 syndicated column pushing for the legalization of prostitution (or what he calls “fleeting, consensual physical companionship”) when he asked “what’s the difference between passing a cosmo down the bar and handing over a Ben Franklin when the aim is to get someone in the sack?” “Aren’t the Quasimodos among us entitled to a little happiness?” he goes on to ask.

When I read that column I wanted to scream. Or cry. Prostitution isn’t sex between consenting adults. It is the exploitation of women and children for the profit of the pimp and the pleasure of the john.

But we are making progress. The language of human trafficking has had a powerful impact. In just few short years, Minnesotans have fundamentally changed how we think about prostitution.

Today we no longer hear juvenile prosecutors ask “how will we get her to testify if we can’t threaten her with juvenile delinquency prostitution charges?” Instead, as last week’s Star Tribune feature on the issue of sex trafficking illustrated, police and county attorneys tout the benefits of treating prostituted children as crime victims in securing convictions against human traffickers.

In 2011 objections to including 16 and 17 year olds in Safe Harbors’ protection against prosecution, largely out of fear that the girls who “voluntarily” engage in prostitution could escape punishment, were deeply entrenched 2011. Those objections had essentially evaporated by the 2013 legislative session.

The victim-centered response whose outline was mandated in the 2011 legislation is under construction as we speak with the hiring of the State’s first Safe Harbor director at the Minnesota Department of Health.

And soon we may have federal legislation that requires states to adopt Safe Harbor models if they wish to continue receiving certain federal funding. Earlier this month, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Erik Paulsen each introduced bi-partisan legislation that encourages Safe Harbor nationwide. Both bills are known as the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act and were introduced as S. 1733 and H.R. 3610.

When introducing their legislation, both Senator Klobuchar and Representative Paulsen said the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex aren’t prosecuted as defendants, but rather are treated as victims.

We have a long way to go in the fight against human trafficking. First and foremost, we need to recognize that pimp-controlled prostitution is by its nature coercive, violent and in every way lives up to the definition of human trafficking.

But thanks to Minnesota’s vision, we are on the right path.

Read the story of how Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law came into being at Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, director of advocacy for The Advocates for Human Rights

Modern-Day Slavery: Human Trafficking

(Photo credit: Maggie Boyd)
(Photo credit: Maggie Boyd)

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking, including sex trafficking, is modern-day slavery, and now is the perfect time to address, speak out, and change attitudes and legislation surrounding human trafficking.

The dialogue around sex trafficking is radically changing.

In 2011 The Advocates led the effort to gain passage in the Minnesota legislature of the landmark “Safe Harbor Act,” landmark legislation that redefined sexually-exploited girls under 16 as victims in need of support, rather than as delinquents needing punishment. The bill did not include girls who were 16 and 17, but they became part of later efforts.

Follow-up legislation, Safe Harbor 2013, was enacted last May, extending Safe Harbor provisions to ALL sexually exploited youth in Minnesota under age 18. Additionally the new provisions secured funding for a statewide director of child sex trafficking prevention; new regional positions to connect sexually-exploited youth with shelter, support and services; training law enforcement, prosecutors and others who encounter sexually exploited youth; as well as Safe Harbor housing and shelter.

“The conversation in 2013 was so different than in 2011,” said The Advocates’ advocacy director, Michele Garnett McKenzie, in a feature article in the January edition of the Minnesota Women’s Press. “In 2011, people were still trying to wrap their head around the idea of the girl as victim, not delinquent.” Thinking about girls as victims is becoming more common.

In November bi-partisan legislation was introduced at the federal level. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, inspired by Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law, encourages states to protect minors from prosecution and treat them as victims of sex trafficking.

Another approach: holding buyers accountable. Last year’s bipartisan End Human Trafficking Act would recognize under federal law that people who “obtain, patronize, or solicit” prostituted children are guilty of the crime of human trafficking.

What’s next? Watch for our blog in honor of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (January 11th), which will further discuss the newly introduced “federal Safe Harbors legislation,” the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant