The topic of trafficking in the U.S. ramped up last summer after the film release of “The Sound of Freedom,” but the topic is not new to Alaska. I remember reading an article several years ago about a study that included Covenant House in Anchorage. I was shocked to learn that the per capita trafficking rate of youth was worse in Alaska than it was in certain major big cities in the Lower-48.
Hearing stories about events in other places may cause Alaskans to feel empathy for those who experience this trauma but when it hits home, and we realize it is happening within our own state and communities, a sense of urgency to address it takes hold.
That happened to me when I read that article. When the Governor introduced House Bill 68 to deter trafficking shortly thereafter, I was eager for the legislation to advance. It was moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, partly due to my urging in the 2022 session, but it languished in the Senate Finance Committee, probably because the House Judiciary Chair had not moved the House version of the same bill which indicated lack of interest and support. I believe the bill sat because budget and PFD negotiations were likely a more important focus for these committee chairs.
A similar scenario occurred in 2023, but because the make-up of the legislature had changed, this time the bill moved out of the House Judiciary Committee, but the Senate version made no progress out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In 2024, I am determined to do what I can to get the bill moving in the Senate. It is one of my top priorities this session, and I have shared this commitment at numerous public meetings in the past six months.
We look forward to advocacy this week by the Alaska Stop Human Trafficking Alliance (ASHTA) who will be in Juneau visiting Capitol offices. ASHTA has gathered information with partners such as Priceless in Anchorage and some of the statistics they’ve unveiled are staggering and disturbing.
— An estimated 27.6 million people are trafficked globally.
— U.S., Mexico, and the Philippines have the highest national recorded numbers of trafficking (recruitment and consuming). There is no way to know accurate numbers in U.S. of trafficking victims, but it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
— Most victims are brought into the “trade” between the ages of 13-15 years old.
— The average time a victim spends being “sold” (read “used”) is seven years, often forced to perform somewhere around 10 acts a day.
— The average pimp controls five victims, roughly making $200K per victim annually.
— Trafficking is the second-fastest growing crime in Alaska only to opioid abuse.
— Alaska Native teens or young adults who travel to Fairbanks or Anchorage from one of the villages are often approached by a “tracker” within 72 hours of arrival.
Those trafficked from rural Alaska are considered “profitable” within two weeks of their abduction.
As if these statistics weren’t shocking enough, Native American women are at the highest risk of recruitment – constituting of over 40% of all persons trafficked. Children constitute 20% of all persons trafficked globally, but that number skyrockets closer to 57% when talking about victims within the US. In fact, according to the US Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking has surpassed the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL combined as far as industry profits – now at $150 billion annually. It has even eclipsed profits made from the illegal arms trade.
While trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, Alaska is considered a prime “source” to traffickers from outside of the state. Those trafficked from rural Alaska are considered “profitable” within two weeks of their abduction. They may even be trafficked by a family member or boyfriend (sometimes a classmate) and often promised something other than money, whether access to substances or the mere promise of escape from current life situations.
So, what’s the solution? Along with increasing awareness as to the risk factors and warning signs, helping potential victims from becoming victims, and providing compassionate rehabilitation and protection for those who are rescued, in order to begin to eradicate trafficking in Alaska we’ve got another job to do right now. We must convince legislators to support HB 68 by Governor Dunleavy.
The threat of being charged with a crime is often something that traffickers will use to continue to control their victims.
The transmittal letter for HB 68 explains what the legislation does.
“The bill increases the penalties for all forms of trafficking, placing the most serious classification on those crimes that use force to traffic an underage person. Sex trafficking in the first, second, and third degree is now treated as a sex offense for purposes of sentencing, thereby enhancing the penalties. Sex trafficking in the first and second degree would also require sex offender registration, while sex trafficking in the third degree would not require registration.
The legislation also establishes the new crime of “patron of a victim of sex trafficking.” While it is crucial to target those who traffic individuals, it is equally important to address those who create a demand for victims of sex trafficking, specifically underage victims.
The legislation also targets persons who patronize those engaging in sex work. First, it increases the penalties for this conduct and establishes mandatory minimums based on the number of times a person is convicted. If a person is convicted three times within five years, the offense will become a felony. Sex trafficking would not exist without those who pay for sex. We cannot begin to address this scourge if we continue to look the other way as people continually fund the sex trafficking industry.
Finally, the legislation establishes a mechanism by which a person convicted of prostitution or low-level drug possession can request that the conviction be vacated if they were a victim of sex trafficking at the time of the offense. The threat of being charged with a crime is often something that traffickers will use to continue to control their victims. It is important for society to recognize that these victims often have no other choice, and they should not be treated as criminals when they are, in fact, victims themselves.”
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It will not be easy or happen overnight, and it will be an uphill climb, but we must tackle this loathsome and detestable crime for the sake of the lives the predators will otherwise devastate. With enough people proactively supporting anti-trafficking organizations, pursuing justice for victims and their perpetrators, and advocating for strong policy to deter these evil crimes, we can eventually reduce and, hopefully, eradicate this heinous activity from our state.
Groups combating trafficking on global and local levels:
— Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R): rescues children from sex trade in US, advocates for preventative measures globally (www.ourrescue.org)
— International Coalition for Prevention and Empowerment (ICPE): empowering individuals and communities through tailored human trafficking prevention programs. (preventempower.org)
— JOY International: rescues children, teens, and young adults from sex trafficking globally (www.joy.org)
— Traffick 911: rescue and support for youth trafficked in the US (www.traffick911.com)
— U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking: trafficking prevention advocacy and activism in the US (usiaht.org)
— Love Alaska: (www.lovealaska.org) initiatives…
— Priceless: anti-trafficking and survivor care in Alaska (www.pricelessalaska.org)
— Chosen: Trafficking prevention youth mentorship in Alaska (www.chosenalaska.org)
— Click here to read House Bill 68.
— The bill is currently sitting in the House Finance Committee with no public hearings scheduled. Click here to contact the House Finance Committee members.
The views expressed here are those of the author.