Every year since 2007 Polaris Project has rated state anti-trafficking laws, ranking them into one of four color tiers:
- Tier 1 (7+ points): State has passed significant laws to combat human trafficking, and should continue to take steps to improve and implement its laws.
- Tier 2 (5-6): State has passed numerous laws to combat human trafficking, and should take more steps to improve and implement its laws.
- Tier 3 (3-4): State has made nominal efforts to pass laws to combat human trafficking, and should take major steps to improve and implement its laws.
- Tier 4 (0-2): These “Faltering Four” states have not made nominal efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking, and should actively work to improve their laws.
Our goal is to present a map which is entirely green, but we’re not there yet. Yesterday, we launched our 2012 map, which shows that 21 states are now ranked as Tier 1 up from only 11 states in 2011. We launched the map live from the National Conference of State Legislatures through a phone briefing with more than 80 activists from across the country. We were honored to have Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Arkansas (Tier 4) State Representative David Meeks, and Virginia-based trafficking survivor and advocate Holly Austin Smith join us to help discuss the importance of these laws.
State Representative Meeks’ home state of Arkansas is one of the “faltering four,” states that have made few efforts to build a legal framework to combat human trafficking. He is actively working to remedy this, joining representatives from within his own party and across the aisle and looking forward to introducing an anti-trafficking law in the next legislative term.
Massachusetts is currently a Tier 1 state, but this was not always the case. Until Fall 2011, they did not have any anti-trafficking laws and was one of the “Nine Lagging Behind” states. During our briefing, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley identified the right mixture that makes up a successful anti-trafficking law:
“[T]he basis of any of these efforts is going to depend upon legislation that gives both police and prosecutors the tools to focus on holding accountable people who would exploit other people. That’s a basic tenant of all of our public safety.”
Massachusetts’s status as one of the four “Most Improved” states of 2012 is exciting not only because they passed a strong anti-labor trafficking and anti-sex trafficking law, but because they are also actively using the law to eradicate trafficking in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Successful anti-trafficking laws can both include just punishments for traffickers and vital protections for the survivors. Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking, shared how these laws could have made a difference for her when she was trying to rebuild her life:
“The main trafficker in my case served only 365 days in jail for raping and prostituting a child. This illustrates the need for a sex trafficking law in every state. This man broke my childhood in half and life changed for me forever. The woman in my case posted bail and fled; she is actually still considered a fugitive in the state of New Jersey today. A third trafficker in my case served so time because there was no law in place that was appropriate for his role. He was the guy on the phone who lured me away from home with promises.
I am also a big advocate for the victim assistance law. After I was trafficked, I received no assistance at all: no counseling, no support. I was put back into the situation from which I was running in the first place. I attempted suicide within days of my rescue. In fact, that was the only way I got counseling, because I was put into a psychiatric facility. Victims of trafficking need immediate aftercare and placement and counseling from therapists who have been trained in the area of victimization.”
If you live in a state that needs to work on its anti-trafficking laws, you can be the difference. Here is a list of pending anti-trafficking laws that you can call your state legislator to support; nothing pending? A hand-written letter or thoughtful phone call can make all the difference in the life of a trafficking victim. If you’d like some company walking the road to freedom, consider joining our grassroots network to learn more about upcoming opportunities to end modern slavery in your state. If you do choose to act, let us know, and we’ll see what we can do to help you.