In a triumph of grassroots politics, community members, and politicians have come together to fight sex trafficking on the local level. We are proud to say that Indiana and Indianapolis are taking a stand against this modern form of slavery with Senate Bill 4. In the second part of this two-part blog post, I will explain the importance of Senate Bill 4 as well as the issue of sex trafficking more generally. For information on the origins of this local initiative, check out “Not in my town”: The Local Fight Against Sex Trafficking.
“We have an obligation to act and to act quickly. This will be the Super Bowl where this terrible practice will come to an end,” said Governor Mitch Daniels at a recent press conference concerning recently passed legislation to deter sex trafficking. Daniels included this initiative on his list of top legislative priorities for 2012. He signed it into law Monday morning.
While the majority of sex trafficking occurs beyond U.S. borders, commercial sexual exploitation of both adults and children is an urgent domestic problem as well. Due to the underground nature of sex trafficking, as well as widespread underreporting, the total number of victims cannot be known, but according to Shared Hope International at least 100,000 American children are victimized by prostitution each year. Most victims are young women or girls who have run away from home or have been abandoned by their families and live on the street.
Legally defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for sexual acts, sex trafficking may or may not involve actual transportation of victims. Widespread underreporting is often caused by lack of training for law enforcement officials and other service providers. Victims face feelings of shame, self-blame, dependency, and hopelessness and are frequently trained by traffickers to distrust law enforcement. When signs of exploitation are not recognized, victims themselves may be punished with charges of prostitution.
Under federal and international law, proof of use of force, fraud or coercion is not required when children are found to be commercially exploited for sex. This type of provision is a key component of recently passed Senate Bill 4.
Senate Bill 4 was unanimously supported in both the Senate and the House. In addition to making sex trafficking cases involving children easier to prosecute, it toughens existing penalties against traffickers of children under the age of 16, will no longer allow traffickers to claim that a child consented to sexual acts, and makes the sale or transfer of custody of a child for sex acts illegal for any individual.
In consideration of the general increase in prostitution during major events such as the Super Bowl, supporters aimed to fast track this legislation and have it signed by the governor before this weekend. Please join us in celebrating this important victory! Please consider contacting your state legislators to thank them for their hard work and support!