A unified law is critical to combat human trafficking

While many states are adopting anti-trafficking laws, the United States needs a unified law to make a significant impact. Photo: Arrest for human trafficking/ AP

WASHINGTON, January 1, 2014 — To truly combat human trafficking, the United States needs a Unified Law.

Last year, President Barack Obama  proclaimed January 2014 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, culminating in the annual celebration of National Freedom Day on February 1.

The President called upon businesses, national and community organizations, faith-based groups, families, and all Americans to recognize the vital role we can play in ending all forms of slavery and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.

One important way to end modern day slavery is through a strengthened legal system.

Understanding the definition of human trafficking can be hard enough, and wading through individual states statutes and proposed legislation can seem impossible to even the most seasoned attorney.

According to the United Nations, human trafficking is the process by which a person is recruited by coercion and manipulation and held captive for the purpose of exploitation.

Traffickers threaten to use, or actually use, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, manipulation or deception to bring their victims under their control.

The resulting exploitation is essentially a modern-day form of slavery as human trafficking victims are subjected to sexual exploitation or forced labor or both.

Statistics are not reliable due to under reporting. In 2013 the FBI began a much needed tracking and identifying program. The 2008 reauthorization of the TVPA required the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report to include human trafficking and data collection from police departments.

It is estimated that between 12.3- 27 million people are enslaved around the world today. There are anywhere between 600,000 and 800,000 victims trafficked through international borders every year human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century – a thirty two billion dollar industry.

According to CIA estimates, as many as 15,000 to 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into The United States every year.

Anti-trafficking efforts appear to be improving for the better with the many state legislative efforts across the country increasing. The many gaps and variants in these legislation efforts show however, the problem of not identifying victims and few prosecutions of human trafficking.

This is why the vast majority of prosecutors are not yet seeing human trafficking cases in their courtrooms across the country.

Today, every state has human trafficking or related criminal statutes. However, these law are as varied as the states themselves. The definitions of human trafficking and the elements also widely differ.

Thus the need for a Uniform law.

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC), now in its 122nd year, includes more than 350 practicing lawyers, governmental lawyers, judges, law professors, and lawyer-legislators from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Commissioners are appointed by their states to draft and promote enactment of uniform laws that are designed to solve problems common to all the states.

Currently, some state laws only address sex trafficking of minors. Others laws merge together smuggling and trafficking, which are different crimes. The vast majority of state trafficking laws do not include victim assistance or protection from arrest based on offenses committed as a result of being trafficked.

Understanding the various legislation and existing laws in each state is very difficult.  Safe harbor laws and vacating or expunging statutes are not the same, although many believe they are.

A uniform law in all states would help remedy this and other confusion surrounding human trafficking.

There is presently a push for uniform statewide legislation that combines safe harbor statutes together with vacating or expunging statues.

Adopting uniform law statewide would enable survivors and victims of human trafficking and the advocates and organizations that aim to aid, restore and rehabilitate them to first ensure that the ability to find employment, housing, banking, and education that is not hindered by the stigma of a criminal record.

Without this type of uniform statewide law, sex trafficking victims will continue to be arrested as sex offenders without screening and referrals for services in place.

Some law enforcement officials believe that the arrest of minors is the only way to address the issue, not understanding the long-term impact this has on a minor’s life.

The arrest of sex-trafficking victims only reinforces what traffickers tell their victims-the police are the enemy and will never help you.

Vacating convictions and immunity of prosecution of minors, restitution for survivors, and the ability to access the civil legal system for compensation is all part of the uniform law.

When in place in all states, this uniform law will enable all agencies federal, state and local to identify victims, provide services, and prosecute traffickers.

The Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking provides all states with a model  for improvements  to combat human trafficking.  Further information on the UAPRHT can be found at the ULC’s website at www.uniformlaws.org.


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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website www.barbaraamaya.com follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

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