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Preventing Modern Slavery

May 30, 2012 By Sasha Hulsey, Policy Associate

Human trafficking is one of the cruelest black market trades, and the second fastest growing worldwide (first is drug trafficking.) According to the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as: “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.”

Many are now offering a more simplistic explanation: it is modern slave.

The FBI has identified thirteen U.S. hotspots for child prostitution; one is the Twin Cities. Human trafficking is not only an issue that affects the victims and perpetrators, but it is one that affects our entire community.  It is a public policy issue that impacts all four of Minnesota 2020's core research areas.

Many factors make people more vulnerable to traffickers, including childhood poverty, homelessness and immigration status. That's why reversing state budget trends that cut safety net programs is critical.

At the same time, we must also adopt ways to deter human trafficking, such as harsher punishments for traffickers and solicitors, and better protections for victims. 

Currently, under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), convicted traffickers are charged with a felony. Under Minnesota law, those convicted of involvement in trafficking minors could face up to 20 years in prison, or fined up to $40,000.  Many of those convicted in Minnesota are charged under kidnapping or prostitution laws because our state does not have a comprehensive set of anti-trafficking laws.

The Native American community is disproportionately more prone to trafficking dangers. Due to state law and tribal law discrepancies, it is difficult for tribes to prosecute non-natives on tribal land and vice-versa. In order to help prevent this exploitation, the state needs to coordinate it’s anti-trafficking legislation with the tribes to prosecute traffickers and johns, and protect those who are being taken advantage of.

In July 2011, Governor Dayton signed the Safe Harbor law, which protects “sexually exploited youth” under 16, and recognizes them as victims not criminals. The law also increases soliciting fines; however, they are still quite minimal. In order to reduce the number of traffickers and johns, and increase the likelihood that victims will agree to come forward, these laws need to be harsher on perpetrators and more protective for victims.

Companies are also held responsible for any involvement in Minnesota trafficking. There is a corporate liability for any business connected to sex trafficking, and if found guilty can lead to the business’ dissolution.

The Women’s Foundation and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Integrative Leadership recently sponsored a conference called “Freedom Here and Now: Ending Modern Slavery.”  Corporate  leaders of global companies, including those from the Carlson Company, Manpower Group, Sabre Holdings, and Delta Airlines, came together to discuss their signing of the ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) Code of Conduct.

Requiring corporations that do business in Minnesota to check their supply chains for any involvement in labor or sex trafficking, punishing those corporations who are involved, and having a zero-tolerance policy for employees that solicit victims of trafficking is another step toward prevention.

Education is an important factor for preventing and resolving issues of human trafficking. Further steps are needed to instruct police officers on how to recognize and handle cases involving victims of trafficking (Saint Paul Police Department has a special task force specifically to counter human trafficking.)

Educating communities, schools, police, and families about the realities and dangers of sexual trafficking may be an unpleasant subject for many, but it is a necessity to keep children safe and to create a cultural stigma against men and boys buying women for sex.

Breaking Free, a St. Paul nonprofit, focuses on exposing sex trafficking as violence against women, providing education and support to subjugated women and girls, and providing housing for victims of sexual exploitation. One of the educational services that Breaking Free offers is the monthly “john school”, which is a mandated full day’s seminar for first-time offenders who were arrested while soliciting prostitution. The goal of the program is “to eventually stop the demand for sexual services on the street, in hotels or online.” In 2009, three years after the program began, only three of the seven hundred men had be caught re-offending in Saint Paul. 

Other advocacy groups in the state, such as the Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale Initiative (through the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota) are trying to educate citizens and communities about the dangers of sex trafficking, and how individuals can help to stop it. However, to end human trafficking is a daunting task that requires the support of citizens, corporations, and the government, as well as non-profits. With the help of everyone, perhaps we can finally live up to the words of the 13th Amendment, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States,” or in the rest of the world. 

To report a tip on human trafficking, or to learn more about how to help, call the Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-3737-888

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