The Star-Herald

Putting a stop to human trafficking

Last month was Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Raising awareness about human trafficking, and specifically sex trafficking in Maine, is one of my top priorities. Unfortunately, Maine is not immune to this form of modern-day slavery.

Sex trafficking can derail lives, separate families and threaten the safety of our communities. Some may view sex trafficking, or forced prostitution, as something that does not affect us here in Maine, especially in The County. People who are victims of sex trafficking must know that they are not alone and are not without support and resources.   

My colleague Sen. Cathy Breen has submitted a bill this session to move the needle forward on dealing with this horrible occurrence in Maine. Her vision is to make it illegal to prosecute a minor engaging in prostitution.

Too frequently criminal codes nationwide have attempted to stop sex trafficking by focusing on the victim of trafficking or survivor of abuse. This is a way to give relief to the effects of sex trafficking, but it does not deal with the source of the problem: the traffickers who decide to commit heinous crimes by taking away the free will of people in our society. Sen. Breen’s bill seeks to resolve that, by recognizing that minors do not choose whether they engage in prostitution. The bill puts the onus on the true criminals, those who seek out the services of prostitution and those who force minors into prostitution. It also lets victims know they won’t face charges when they seek help.

As chair of the Judiciary Committee, I will be working directly on this bill. I am eager to be a part of the solution to this issue because I believe we can and must improve victims’ lives.

I am optimistic about the direction of public policy in Maine related to sex trafficking. We can be pioneers in sex-trafficking legislation. We need to change the way we see sex trafficking. This bill will not only help protect minors under the law, but it also prevents traffickers from threatening their victims with a criminal record. This will help end the cycle of sex trafficking. Currently, victims can be sent to jail and, once released, often have nowhere to turn except back to their abuser.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, there are many ways to seek help and guidance. To receive immediate help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text 233733. The Maine Sex Trafficking & Exploitation Network (mainesten.org) is a useful site to learn more about how to support victims of sex trafficking in Maine and access local and regional services. They offer services such as training and technical assistance to promote anti-trafficking measures and a collection of resources for victims and advocates.  

The Maine Coalition of Sexual Assault is another organization you can reach out to talk about sexual assault specifically. Their number is (800) 871-7741.

It is crucial for us to seek out help for sex trafficking victims and to let victims know what resources are available to them. The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 14,117 calls and 5,147 reports of trafficking cases last year. This figure does not account for sex trafficking victims and survivors who either don’t know how to reach out for help, or have been unable to do so. Together, let’s spread the word about sex trafficking in Maine and let Mainers know that we are working to stop it.

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