Why Some State’s Stricter Laws Are Creating a Threat of Trafficking for Others
WASHINGTON, D.C., South Dakota’s laws pertaining to child sex trafficking were named some of the weakest in the nation, according to a new study by Shared Hope International. The Protected Innocence Challenge reports on the sufficiency of state laws relating to domestic minor sex trafficking. South Dakota earned 58.5 per cent and is one of only four states in the nation with a failing score. Watch livestream or attend.
The study was first conducted in 2011 and found 26 states earned failing scores. However, after four years of sweeping legislative advancements, 42 states have raised their grade. Three states, Louisiana, Tennessee and Washington, have earned “A” grades. Only nine states have not raised their grade since 2011 and California, Maine, Michigan and South Dakota are the only remaining states earning failing scores. As states strengthen laws, enabling more aggressive investigation and prosecution; traffickers may be searching for states with lower risk and greater tolerance. Growing concerns that these inactive states are at risk of attracting trafficking crimes from neighboring states with stronger laws are serious.
South Dakota is surrounded by fracking operations in three bordering states, contributing to an influx of transient workers in the area. Increasing the population of men who could be commercial sex consumers, compounded by weak state laws to deter the crime could entice traffickers to the region to meet the demand for this illicit business.
South Dakota has strong federal leadership under U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, a 2014 Shared Hope International Pathbreaker Award Recipient for his dedication to anti-trafficking efforts. U.S. Attorney Johnson has overseen the prosecution of more than 25 human trafficking cases in five years, including three life-sentences and the federal prosecution of numerous men who attempted to purchase sex from trafficking victims. His office pursued the case of United States v. Jungers through the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, securing the critical decision that buyers of sex acts with minors are committing crimes of sex trafficking under the federal law, upping the risk of such activity by those who drive the sex trafficking markets.
The strength of South Dakota’s ability to adequately respond to trafficking crimes is currently contingent on federal leadership, and is conditional on the continued investment and political will of federal leadership. The Protected Innocence Challenge was created to respond to this dynamic. Previously, many states also relied on federal statues to address the crime. However, a majority of trafficking crimes were not being accepted for federal prosecution, forcing states to handle the cases locally and relying on weak or insufficient laws. The Challenge addresses key legislative gaps and makes recommendations for improvement so states can strengthen laws and implement effective state response.