It may be hard out here for a pimp, but nowhere is it harder in a legal sense than in Washington State.
Washington did a great thing by passing some common sense legislation this February to solidify its standing as the worst spot in the country for human traffickers. The two new laws make it illegal to coerce someone into involuntary servitude by threatening them on the basis of their immigration status. This sort of coercion can include withholding or threatening to destroy immigration paperwork, as well as threatening to tell law enforcement about a person's undocumented status.
This is no small feat. We live amidst an $89 billion global black market in which millions of people are routinely forced, scammed and coerced into preforming domestic work, manual labor and sex work — often at no pay, and often in dire conditions. The U.S. Department of State estimates that as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, and many more are trafficked within the United States.
Image Credit: Polaris Project
It's a serious human rights issue, and we should all push our state legislatures to crack down on it. Whether it's Natalia, who was brought to the United States as a 13-year-old and immediately forced into domestic servitude or Danielle Douglas, now 31, who was forced into commercial sex as a teenager and later escaped, there are faces, names and stories behind every one of these cases.
The good news is that many states have made significant progress in recent years when it comes to getting anti-human trafficking legislation on the books. Polaris Project, one of the world's most prominent organizations in the fight against human trafficking, conducts an annual study to assess states on their human trafficking legislation. The study groups states into four tiers based on criteria that includes sex trafficking provisions, labor trafficking provisions, support for victims and laws protecting trafficked minors from prosecution when they’ve been forced or manipulated into illegal activities like prostitution.
Image Credit: Polaris Project
In 2011, nine states fell into the bottom tier, meaning they had little to no legal protection against human trafficking. Today eight of those states have graduated into higher tiers, with four states making the impressive leap from Tier 4 to Tier 1 in under three years.
And yet much work remains to be done. Aside from picking up straggling South Dakota — the only state still in Tier 4 according to the Polaris Project study — it is important to keep pushing all states (Tier 1 states included) to improve their laws and to implement them in such a way that they truly improve the lives of victims and survivors of human trafficking.
Kathleen Morris is a program manager for the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN). She said that while it's nice to have the designation as the best state on human trafficking legislation, she'd like to see a lot of improvements in Washington. In particular, she would like to see her state work on "vacating all crimes committed under the influence of trafficking, not just certain ones."
Morris said, "While it's hard to comment on every law that has been passed, from my perspective I haven't seen a tremendous amount of influence on individuals. It's all well and good to pass laws, but implementation is the key to having any effect."
Passing a law is the first step. Making sure it is implemented effectively should follow closely. Visit Polaris Project's study digs into more detail on how your state is doing on human trafficking legislation. Then follow this link for a list of anti-human trafficking advocacy groups and service providers in your state. Give them a call to see what the needs are for survivors in your state, and what changes you can push for to help make a difference on the policy level.