Senator Berta Gardner

August 21, 2014

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Serving Midtown,
Spenard, and UMed

433 W. 4th Ave.
Anchorage, AK 99501
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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Fighting Human Trafficking

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senators Berta Gardner and Bill Wielechowski chat during a break on the Senate Floor.
Senators Berta Gardner and Bill Wielechowski chat during a break on the Senate Floor.

         The highlight of day 2 of the NCSL conference was clearly Yo Yo Ma playing the cello for members of the Education and the Labor and Work Force Development committees.  I don't think I am exaggerating when I say the experience of listening to him was so transformative and thrilling that I found it hard to focus on the discussion of Arts in the School though I did appreciate the examples from ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy and Turnaround Arts programs.  More details here:

         Instead of going into detail about the value and power of the arts in education, I have chosen to talk about what I have learned about human trafficking and the work being done and/or needed at both the  federal and state levels.

         Here are some basic facts to set the stage:

  • Sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry, the world's fastest growing industry, with an estimated 27 million victims.
  • In the US sex trafficking is the 3 largest criminal industry.
  • 80% of sex traffic victims in the US are born in this country.
  • The average age of sex trafficked victims in the US is 13.
  • Competitive athletics is a significant factor in sex trafficking, not because of involvement of players or teams, but because traffickers follow the fans, and at the Super Bowl, for example one can see an enormous increase in online ads and in the availability of young girls, who unlike other 'products' can be sold many, many times over.
  • The victims have multiple problems such as drug addictions (often intentional by pimps to make them more pliable), shoplifting records, domestic violence, and need to trust in their safety before they will reveal themselves as trafficking victims.

         Clearly this is a huge issue which is daunting unless broken into pieces.   I am thinking about starting with children.  A significant amount of work has been done in a few states already.  Preliminary research and discussion suggest the following:

1.       A person under 18 who is involved in sexual activity under circumstances where another person benefits financially is a victim of sex trafficking.  No transportation of the child victim is required for use of the term "trafficking".

2.      Gather information about the problem generally and also specific to Alaska.  This involves talking to stakeholders, informally or with a task force to define the problem, find out what is already being done and explore ideas for what needs to be done. 

3.      Provide safe harbor for victims, instilling confidence that things can change, that they can kept safe, not punished, and can get services such as housing, counseling, education, and not be compelled to testify.

4.      Explore existing statutes re consequences for traffickers.  Are they adequate?  Do we need changes? 

5.      Change attitudes and raise awareness of the issue.  Work with public/private partnerships to drive awareness among agencies, law enforcement, hospitality industry, the public.

6.      Provide consequences for the "johns", those who purchase sex  with children.  Minnesota requires them to spend a day at John School, listening to victims and advocates.  Johns have to pay for the school and funds raised pay the costs and services.

         These facts show that we must provide an easier out for victims to come forward without fear of pimps or prosecution and provide support services to help them transition away from a life of prostitution. Acknowledging they are victims and not criminals is one step we all can take to help with this.

         I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

         If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office

signed: Berta


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