When it comes to combating child sex trafficking, Alaska is worst in the nation. This was the finding of a newly released report from Shared Hope International, a national non-profit leader in working to eradicate minor sex trafficking. Last month, the group published its annual report card detailing how each state fares in addressing this ongoing crisis.
The report issued a D grade to 10 states (including the District of Columbia) and an F grade to 40 other states. Alaska landed at the very bottom, and the only state to receive a passing grade was Florida, which earned a C.
Central to Shared Hope International’s mission is ending the criminalization and incarceration of untold child sex trafficking victims who are forced into the business against their will. The aim of the annual report is to provide a blueprint for action, which can serve to motivate state legislatures to identify deficiencies in their child trafficking laws.
Eradicating child sex trafficking of underage girls is seen as key to dismantling the industry. According to the Guardian Group, which tracks sex trafficking trends across the nation, the average age of entry into the sex trade is 15 years-old, with one in in six victims being under age 12. Of the federally prosecuted sex trafficking cases in 2019 only 2.1% of the victims were males.
While sex trafficking is notoriously underreported, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 17,000 reports of child sex trafficking in 2020. According to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Alaska has averaged about 12 reported cases of child sex trafficking each year from 2015 to 2019.
Nearly a decade ago, Shared Hope developed the nation’s first legal framework that challenged states to enact laws that comprehensively address the crime of child sex trafficking.
Alaska needs to enhance its criminal provisions, identification and response to victims, continuum of care, availability to justice for survivors, access to justice for trafficking victims and prevention and training.
“When we launched the Protected Innocence Challenge – and issued the inaugural State Report Cards– the majority of states received an ‘F’ grade, reflecting the reality that many states’ laws failed to even recognize the crime of child sex trafficking,” the report states. “Over the past 10 years, we have been working to lay the foundation for transformational policy, practice, and cultural change by supporting state legislators and stakeholders to enact the minimum fabric of laws needed to address these heinous crimes. Ten years later, no state received an ‘F’ grade, and a majority of the country received an ‘A’ or ‘B.’”
For the latest report, Shared Hope upped the ante by taking a closer look at how states fare in the area of victim protection and prevention. Under the new grading system, most states failed to earn a passing grade, including Alaska.
“At the time Shared Hope first issued report cards in 2011, 26 states did not make it a crime to buy sex with a child; today every state in the country considers sex trafficking of a minor a punishable crime,” said Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope. “This is the reason we provide the sometimes uncomfortable motivation of a report card. Analyzing state laws for nearly a decade has enabled us to understand where progress is concentrated and where gaps remain.”
Grades are based on an analysis of multiple legislative components that must be addressed in state laws to effectively respond to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking.
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According to the report, Alaska needs to improve in multiple areas. This includes, among others, the following:
— Greater accountability for buyers seeking underage sex.
— Better tracking of foreign national victims.
— Enhanced screening through child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
— More non-punitive services for victims.
— Increased compensation for victims.
— Exceptions to live, in-court testimony.
— Greater training for child welfare workers, juvenile justice agencies, law enforcement, prosecutors and school personnel.
— Reduced statute of limitations for those accused of sex trafficking youth.
In general, Alaska needs to enhance its criminal provisions, identification and response to victims, continuum of care, availability to justice for survivors, access to justice for trafficking victims and prevention and training.
While laudable progress has been made across the nation, including in Alaska, with the passage of laws to criminalize selling and purchasing sex with a minor, child and youth victims often are still regularly denied access to justice and restorative services outside of the juvenile justice system, the report claims.
“We are asking states to respond to exploited youth as victims of a serious crime,” said Smith. “We recognize changing victim protection laws is a heavy lift and providing services presents resource challenges. Regardless, some states are taking the lead on this and we’re confident others will learn from their example.”
Click here to read the report on Alaska’s response to child sex trafficking.