Community solutions to help trafficking victims

Human trafficking is making Maine and national headlines more and more frequently.

Some of the news is about how much work there is left to do. But more recently, it’s about exciting successes in the field, such as the $400,000 federal grant that Maine just received to develop victim services for human trafficking victims in southern Maine. One thing that these successes often have in common is that they are built on a foundation of teamwork and collaboration: that grant was made possible by two years of effort by the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation, a multi-disciplinary sex trafficking response team.

Another exciting development – one which hasn’t received a lot of news – shares that history of team work and community energy. As of October 9, Maine has a crime of “Aggravated Sex Trafficking”, (17-A section 852) on the books. Aggravated sex trafficking is a class B felony, and occurs when a person promotes the prostitution of a minor, or compels an adult to enter into or engage in prostitution through a number of means – primarily different kinds of force, fraud, or coercion.  The bill, LD 1159, also included a number of other elements, including expanding the definition of a human trafficking offense in Maine’s civil rights code, which makes civil remedies and restitution available for victims, and makes being a consumer of sex trafficking – in other words, being a john – a “jail-able” offense after three strikes.

The bill was developed with a coalition, including the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group (in existence since 2006, with members from social services and law enforcement), and went to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with the full support of the Criminal Law Advisory Commission. Supportive testimony was given by local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, service providers, and former victims of human trafficking who are currently working to meet the real and pressing needs of trafficking victims in Maine.

It remains to be seen how Maine law enforcement and prosecutors will use this new tool. Still, we know that LD 1159 and the protections and accountability that it creates is a real success story for Maine. It’s a story of partnership, of coalition-building, and of creating Maine-based solutions to meet the real needs of vulnerable Mainers. LD 1159 is the perfect example of a community-driven solution.

We can’t wait to see how this comprehensive new law changes the landscape for public safety, for social services, and most importantly, for victims of human trafficking. And we are confident that it will.

This post was written by Destie Hohman Sprague, program coordinator at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at destie@mecasa.org.

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