Winning the Battle, Not the War…Yet
As more states have enacted state-level laws against human trafficking, advocates have celebrated these landmark victories. States now have additional tools to target criminals who exploit others by compelling them into commercial sex, labor, or services.
To the frustration of advocates, however, only about 15 states have actually utilized their human trafficking laws for prosecutions, and of these the use of the laws has been limited to certain jurisdictions. Much of this is due to the lack of training and public awareness. Many people often assume that once a law passes, it is automatically known by law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges. Unfortunately, this is not the case as there is not always a gatekeeper who quickly disseminates information about new laws to first responders and the general public.
Winning the War…
With laws in place, the work needs to focus on educating the general public and providing comprehensive training for law enforcement and other entities on human trafficking and tools to combat it in their local communities. It is critical that law enforcement understand the crime and know their state laws to identify and investigate human trafficking situations.
As important as trainings are, alone they are not enough. Strategic goals are a must. The crime of human trafficking should be institutionalized where training becomes consistent and long term. Ideally, training would be incorporated into law enforcement academies and as part of in-services trainings on a yearly basis.
As advocates, the first steps include learning about human trafficking and your state laws in order to be better informed and prepared in taking action. This can be as simple as a
phone call to your local police department or county prosecutor office and asking whether their offices are aware of human trafficking and able to effectively address a potential situation. If they cannot, suggest scheduling trainings to educate officers about human trafficking and their state laws.
Training is critical in informing those individuals who have the power to investigate crimes, identify victims, and prosecute criminals. As advocates we need to advocate for training efforts to complement the passage of new laws. Otherwise, we risk these laws gathering dust in a law library.