In my February edition of the McKenna “Must Read,” I mentioned my upcoming plans to bring new focus to regional and national efforts to end human trafficking. At that time, I vowed to use my position as the 2011-12 President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) to lead a national effort to fight human trafficking here in Washington and across the country.
Upon being sworn in as NAAG president on June 23 during our summer meeting in Chicago, I immediately launched my Presidential Initiative, “Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General United against Human Trafficking.” This initiative is a comprehensive, multi-pronged effort designed to use the legal might of attorneys general across the nation to raise awareness, mobilize communities, advocate for victims and assist law enforcement in their efforts to both identify and combat human trafficking. (Watch the video of the Presidential Initiative Kick-Off.)
The Pillars of Hope Initiative at a glance
1. Making the Case - One of the biggest obstacles to ending human trafficking is the fact that most people don’t realize how big the problem really is. Even though victims are working among us in farms, restaurants, hotels and other establishments, and are being prostituted by pimps and organized criminal syndicates, their plight goes unnoticed by most of the community. That’s why the first Pillar of Hope involves making the case that human trafficking is a real and growing problem, here in Washington and across America. Data exists on human trafficking cases tried by federal authorities, who estimate that between 14,000-17,000 people are trafficked into our country from overseas each year. But the estimates of domestic trafficking victims who are moved from state to state are much rougher and range from 100,000-300,000. Developing better information will help determine where to focus resources.
2. Holding Traffickers Accountable – Not all states have adopted a comprehensive menu of anti‐human trafficking laws that provide all the tools necessary for local law enforcement to prosecute traffickers. What’s worse, only 20 states are actually using the laws that exist.
For example, in 2003, Washington became the first state to make human trafficking a crime. It’s a serious felony here to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain any person for labor or services using force, fraud or coercion. That includes sex trafficking and other forms of forced labor, from domestic servitude to sweatshop work.
Yet by 2008, no known charges had been filed under this law. At the Attorney General’s Office, we learned the law wasn’t being used because victims of human trafficking were not being recognized as such. Rather, they were being seen as victims of other crimes, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. That's why I convened a summit meeting in our office in April 2008 to consider how better use could be made of the law.
The second Pillar of Hope will strengthen efforts to holding traffickers accountable by ensuring all states have effective tools to assist law enforcement and prosecutors in combating human trafficking.
3. Mobilizing Communities to Care for Victims – Successful coordination among service providers and law enforcement is another essential element in all efforts to end human trafficking and help victims. There are pitifully few resources available to trafficking victims, such as confidential shelters.
Some good working models exist that can be disseminated and implemented in states across the country. The third Pillar of Hope involves NAAG serving as a sort of “clearinghouse” to help states find local resources that will enhance their state-level strategies.
4. Public Awareness and Advocacy – This fourth Pillar will focus on how to measure the effectiveness of educational campaigns and strategies to ensure the most good is being done with the resources being used.
We would also like to see a public campaign to end demand for trafficking victims' services, to make it socially unacceptable, for example, to buy sex from people who are highly likely to be young, coerced human trafficking victims. We'll be working with Indiana's Attorney General to promote these messages in conjunction with the Super Bowl in February in Indianapolis, and looking for other opportunities as well.
We will also keep up our collective pressure on online classified services such as Backpage.com, as more than 50 state and territorial Attorneys General signed onto a letter I circulated recently, calling on Backpage's owners to stop profiting from the sexual exploitation of minors and other human trafficking victims.
In addition to these four Pillars of Hope, my Initiative also includes a range of other elements intended to emphasize state and local law enforcement and prosecutor training, engage local leaders on this issue, and ensure that anti-trafficking efforts at all levels center on the needs of the victims.
As NAAG President, I’m very enthusiastic about being in such a powerful position to shine new light on the problem of human trafficking, and help lead national efforts to end this worldwide tragedy. Attorneys General across the country are well-placed to provide statewide and national leadership on this issue, so I’ll be working diligently through NAAG to advance our anti-trafficking agenda.
Over the coming year, news and updates on our efforts will be available on the NAAG website. And as always, you can find the latest news from the Attorney General’s Office on our website.
Please consider joining in this fight by looking for ways to help spread the message that human trafficking is happening right here in our state, and victims desperately need help and support from within our communities.
Meanwhile, enjoy the late summer weather!