Viewpoint: More should be done to end human traffickingI urge state and local officials to consider the following measures:
By: Karla Bigham, Cottage Grove, South Washington County Bulletin
According to Breaking Free, a November 2010 study found that in Minnesota each month at least 213 underage girls are sold for sex an average of five times per day through the Internet and escort services. These underage girls are more than statistics; they live among us and did not choose this way of life. As a society, we need to continue to bring this topic to light and work to end this tragedy. We need to work together to stop the exploitation of these victims.
While in recent years the Minnesota Legislature has adopted statutory improvements in this area, it is important they continuously monitor for necessary policy changes. The criminal element adapts quickly to new technology available to exploit victims and to evade detection by law enforcement. I urge state and local officials to consider the following measures:
-- The Legislature should increase funding for training of law enforcement and prosecutors regarding human trafficking. Ongoing training of law enforcement on this topic is important to bring justice for the victims of human trafficking. Technology is constantly changing, coalitions are being built, and laws change; it is important that the public safety community works together to share resources on this very important topic.
-- The Legislature should amend existing state law to increase the penalties for online solicitation of prostitution. As technology changes, so does the way traffickers exploit victims, making it more difficult to be apprehended by law enforcement. The rapidly developing social networking media allows a sometimes untraceable access to victims and advertisement to potential customers. Elected officials need to make sure these criminals are punished to the fullest extent of the law.
-- There should be an increase in services available for victims to escape from their traffickers. After being removed from human trafficking, victims need housing, medical care and other basic services to survive. Many of the victims are starting their lives over from scratch, and their survival depends on access to these services. All levels of government need to work collaboratively to ensure these services are available to victims to provide a smooth transition.
-- Encourage nonprofit organizations to organize public-private partnerships to educate local communities on the indicators of human trafficking. The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office has an initiative to train local hotel staff on signs that human trafficking may be occurring at their hotels. Other counties should take note and establish similar outreach programs. Establishing these important relationships will further educate business leaders and help bring justice for the victims.
In addition to reaching out to your elected officials, there are other ways for people to get involved. Breaking Free is a Minnesota nonprofit organization that helps women escape human trafficking. If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to volunteer or to make a donation, please visit www.breakingfree.net to learn how you can help victims of human trafficking.
According to the FBI, Minneapolis is ranked in the top 13 cities in the nation for the recruitment of minors into prostitution and sex trafficking. The concerns of human trafficking transcend global, national and local boarders. The victims can be our neighbors or from across the globe. The impact on the victim will be a lifelong battle to overcome the trauma from being trafficked. Collaboratively working to end human trafficking will make our communities safer and lessen the dehumanization of society.
Bigham represented south Washington County communities in the Minnesota House from 2007-2011.