Change within legislation impacts the structure of the present and future state of our world, including our most basic human freedom. Human-rights organizations, such as the Polaris Project develop and execute grassroots-lobbyist movements to advocate for anti-human trafficking legislation. Through these grassroots movements new laws have been created, and current policies have been improved and adapted. For example, in 2000 federal legislators established the first multifaceted federal law to combat human trafficking in persons. The Trafficking Victims revention Act (TVPA) 2000 (Public Law 106-386) was enacted to address human trafficking at the federal level, by mandating state and federal reporting, increasing criminal penalties for traffickers, and increasing protection and assistance for trafficked victims. This legislative act also implemented the development of an Interagency Task Force to Combat Trafficking , which is led by the Secretary of State, and includes representatives from the Departments of Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, to assess and report U.S. and international progression towards fighting human trafficking. The TVPA was then reauthorized through the legislative acts of Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003 , 2005 , 2008 , and 2011 .
Under the aforementioned U.S. federal laws, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” encompasses both labor trafficking and sex trafficking: labor trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to push someone into some sort of labor service (e.g., servitude, debt bondage, slavery), therefore, recruiting, harboring, transporting, and obtaining that individual; and sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to push or compel someone into commercial sexual acts for the exchange of something valuable (e.g., food, money, shelter) therefore, recruiting, harboring, transporting, and obtaining that individual. It is important to note that the main focus of U.S. legislation is sex trafficking, due to the continuous increase of victims within the U.S. Furthermore, we must challenge ourselves to understand how the modern-day slavery differs from the slavery that was abolished in the 1860s, within the United States, and why we as society are not doing more to influence the lawmakers on a national level.
In addition to the advancement at the federal level, progression is also materializing at the state level, including the fact that currently 48 states have designated human trafficking a crime. Also, within nine U.S. states, Safe Harbor, a legislative act, has been established to strive for the creation of a paradigm in which the child being trafficked is seen as a victim, not a criminal. This concept may seem obvious and simple, however, victims, even children, of sex trafficking are often seen as a criminal. Illinois State Senator Dick Durbin , affirms that “we have created a legal dichotomy in America in which the federal government views prostituted children as victims, yet most states treat them as criminals.” States such as Illinois, Georgia, New York , California, and Florida are at the forefront of combating human trafficking. Regardless of the state we live in, we as individuals have a humanist responsibility to contact our legislators and lobby for the laws that work to end human trafficking, as well as protect victims and punish traffickers. Many states have enacted legislation through the support of local individuals, right-advocates, and state representatives. For example, in Illinois lobbyists assisted Governor Pat Quinn in signing the Illinois Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Crimes Act in August of 2011. This law empowers victims of sex trafficking to exonerate their records of any prostitution convictions. Many lobbied for this new law, because in Chicago about 16,000 to 25,000 women and girls are trafficked and exploited in the commercial sex trade. Lynne Johnson , policy director at the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, states that this law is “an important part of a larger fabric of responses that we are advocating for…because Illinois is really at the forefront for ending commercial sexual exploitation.” Also, according to Huffington Post, Georgia State Senator Renee Unterman , enacted “one of the nation’s toughest crackdowns on human trafficking…striking a delicate balance between tougher penalties for criminals and more treatment for victims that advocates said could be a model for other states seeking to fight the sex trade.” This law actualized stricter prosucution and jail sentenceing, a 25-year minimum sentence for persons convicted of utializing coercion to traffick a child under the age of 18. Additionally, this law increased the minimum sentence to five years for a person who pays for sex with a 16-year-old, and 10 years for a person who attempts to have sex with a child younger than 16-years-old. These are the type of movements that need to be accomplish among all states, and can only be achieved through the power of humanist beliefs and demands generated by the people.
The popularity and magnitude of the Super Bowl in 2012 guided Indiana to also make considerable strides in the fight against human trafficking. Weeks before Super Bowl XLVI Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed new human trafficking legislation to expand the definition of sex trafficking and increase criminal penalties. This law was quickly passed before the Super Bowl XLVI because the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that “10,000 prostitutes were brought to the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami, [and in] 2011, more than 100 people were arrested for prostitution in Dallas during Super Bowl weekend.” Linda Smith, the president and founder of Shared Hope International , also explains that “state lawmakers need to do more when it comes to prosecuting the buyers…future legislation should specifically list punishments for ‘johns’ who purchase underage women.”
Moreover, in Kentucky , the HB 350: Human Trafficking Victims Rights Act, was recently passed by the House of Representatives and is now in the Senate to aid in altering the current legal dichotomy. This house bill protects child victims of human trafficking, targets the dishonest gains of human traffickers, and supplies law enforcement efficient tools to fight human trafficking. Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP) articulates that HB 350 would establish a “Human Trafficking Victims Fund from fines and asset forfeiture/seizure provisions to fund programs that serve victims of human trafficking,” as well as designate a “specialized unit within the Kentucky State Police to provide support on human trafficking investigations statewide.” This bill is still in motion, and requisitions from the people will help solidify and encourage a timely and definite response from the Senate.
The Polaris Project was named after the North Star that guided slaves towards freedom along the Underground Railroad, the Polaris Project has been providing a comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery since 2002.