Shared Hope International, an organization dedicated to the fight against sex trafficking, released its third annual "Report Card" for the 50 states regarding legislation on minor sex trafficking – part of the Protected Innocence Challenge – and while a few states are still failing, each has shown marked improvement.
"This year, we only have six states that have an F, while last year 26 states were failing," Taryn Offenbacher, communications director for Shared Hope, told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. For the first time, three states have actually scored an "A" on their list. "Tennessee, Louisiana, and Washington all have legislators who have been working very actively in 2013," Offenbacher explained.
The communications director shed light on the six major criteria Shared Hope uses to judge states on sex trafficking. First of all, states must have laws specifically against it, criminalizing the selling of minors for sex and having specific punishments for those who enslave and sell people, those who buy them, and those who facilitate the industry. Offenbacher specifically insisted that traffickers should be required to file as sex offenders and that their "financial penalty should match their property ownership."
But laws must also acknowledge that the girls trafficked are not prostitutes – they must be protected from legal prosecution and "should never have a criminal record" for being victimized, Offenbacher added. Finally, "you can have wonderful strong laws for child victims, but if you don't have law enforcement who are able to enforce them, to recognize trafficking, and to provide evidence to a prosecutor," they do no good.
"These things have to be organic and they have to be grassroots," Samantha Vardaman, senior director of Shared Hope, explained, emphasizing the local nature of the fight against human sex trafficking. "Shared Hope is able to come alongside these grassroots efforts to inject the research and the resources and the national level expertise to push the effort forward."
Vardaman presented a brief story behind the three "A" States, the three worst states, and two greatly improved states.
Tennessee, A Score: 93.5
Before Tennessee Legislators started passing laws, "they tasked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigators to do a study of the sex trafficking," Vardaman explained. Immediately after releasing that study in 2012, they passed numerous bills. Shared Hope's ambassador on the ground, Ryan Dalton, "singlehandedly gathered a coalition."
Louisiana, A Score: 93
According to Vardaman, Shared Hope became involved in Louisiana in 2006, implementing a project with the Department of Justice. In 2010, they passed "a large bill specifically identifying that prostitution when it involves a minor is not prostitution, but trafficking."
Washington, A Score: 92.5
"Washington State has really been at the forefront of this issue from very early on," Vardaman explained. Since Linda Smith, Shared Hope's founder and president, is a former state legislator in Washington, "we were really able to work closely with a number of legislators who trusted us," the senior director said. She also appreciated Attorney General Rob McKenna, who introduced the issue to the National Association of Attorneys General.
Maine, F Score: 54
Maine, Vardaman's home state, "did pass an important bill in the 2013 session," and "the F grade shouldn't diminish that," the senior director acknowledged. Nevertheless, she insisted that "you can't just fix one law because when you do, you disconnect it from the entire fabric of laws." Shared Hope intends "to help them to address the related components," Vardaman said.
Michigan, F Score: 53
"The Attorney General in Michigan is very good on this issue," the senior director noted. In order to be thorough, Michigan has also undertaken a careful study to craft a complex reform. "We expect to see significant grade changes in Michigan for sure next year," Vardaman predicted.
California, F Score: 50
California, like Maine, passed an important law, but "they left a lot on the cutting room floor in the process." In particular, Vardaman said, they didn't understand the demand component. "We believe at Shared Hope that if there were no buyer, then there'd be no seller, and there'd be no victim." Nevertheless, she ground to hope that California will address this issue soon.
Most Improved: Wyoming, C up 38 Points from 32.5 to 70.5
"In 2011, when we were releasing our first Protected Innocence report card, we had an opportunity to meet the new Attorney General of Wyoming," Vardaman recalled. She mentioned his request for Shared Hope to wait – "I intend to work on this." Although Wyoming received a negative score at first, the Attorney General has proved true to his word, and the state passed a very comprehensive bill this year.
Vardaman also praised efforts in Oregon on the demand side and Massachusetts as another great improvement. "We worked hard in Oregon to make sure that they made the crime of buying sex with a minor a felony crime as opposed to a misdemeanor," she explained. Oregon rose 21.5 points from a D to a B. Massachusetts passed a sweeping bill in 2012, going from an F to a C, and kept efforts up this year rising up to a B.