By Mikhail Bell (@Bellsworld)
As fall wound down, Shared Hope International, a faith-based anti-trafficking organization, released its annual Protected Innocence Challenge Report in Washington DC. The study, which assigns A thru F letter grades to all 50 states’ efforts to combat human trafficking, has quickly established itself as one of two dominant aids for non-federal legislatures to craft better anti-trafficking laws.
The second annual effort displayed a few interesting trends of note. In 2012, 35 states received grades of D or lower, including 18 failing grades. Comparatively, 41 states received a grade of D or lower and 26 failing states in 2011. Encouragingly, 15 states raised their grades this year by at least one letter, with Alaska and Massachusetts moving up two levels.
Polaris Project’s State Ratings Map also catalogues state level progress on human trafficking legislation using an online map. Its list, however, uses a Tier 1-4 system to rank how well each states responds to human trafficking.
Shared Hope International was founded in 1999 by Linda Smith, a Washington state congresswoman . After seeing trafficking first-hand on a trip to India in 1998, the Republican write-in candidate decided to start a non-profit to “rescue and restore women and children in crisis.”
The organization’s November 29 release coincided with Sharing the Hope 2012, a conference that convened shelter and social services providers to assess creative responses to domestic minor sex trafficking, or DMST.
The Role of Demand in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
Consumer demand drives a variety of commercial behavior – both good and problematic – around the world. This is especially true of child sex trafficking as it thrives on perpetrators’ anonymity and law enforcement’s unfamiliarity with indicators that suggest a minor is being exploited for commercial gain. The most vulnerable populations in the United States, however, are not only the estimated 14,500-17,000 internationals brought across America’s borders sex and labor trafficking purposes.
Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), testified before Congress in 2010 about another demographic. There are “at least 100,000 American children are the victims of commercial sexual trafficking and prostitution each year, “ Allen sidd during the July 14 Human Trafficking Caucus hearing. University of Pennsylvania researchers, Dr. Richard Estes and Dr. Neil Alan Weiner derived this number in their seminal study on commercial sexual exploitation in the United States and Canada.
“We believe it reasonable to estimate a range of 100,000 – 300,000 per year with comfort and confidence,” Allen asserted in his testimony.
According to Shared Hope’s website, the average age at which a “John” first purchases sex is 21 years old. The early contact with offline commercial sex suggests that the pattern will continue throughout adulthood. However data the organization cites indicate the behavior can be changed with the existence of sufficient incentives. It is believed that 83 percent of buyers claim jail time and 79 percent indicated a letter sent to their family would deter them from purchasing sex from a minor.
Since its founding, the United States has inclined itself toward individual liberty. From the Declaration of Independence to the Trafficking Victim Protection Act America’s legislation has set international precedents on many issues.
In between, the Emancipation Proclamation, which marked its sesquicentennial on January 1, 2013, served as the United States’ official stance on exploitative human labor and human dignity. The ensuing Mann/ White Slave Traffic Act of 1910 codified the country’s opposition to interstate sexual commerce as it banned travel for this expressed purpose.
The Protected Innocence Challenge Report provides encouragement for all Americans but holds special meaning for others. “For me the Protected Innocence Challenge signifies liberation from a life of slavery with the opportunity for the oppressed to pursue the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Shamere McKenzie, Shared Hope International staffer and survivor, said.
While its existence does not extinguish human trafficking, the Protected Innocence Challenge Report appears to be a commendable rubric for gauging the nation’s progress against modern-day slavery.