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