POLARIS PROJECT / INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION ADVOCACY BRIEF - WYOMING

Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.  Traffickers reap billions in profits by using force, fraud or coercion to rob victims of their freedom through labor or commercial sex.  There are thousands of U.S. citizens trafficked within our borders. While everyone agrees that human trafficking is a terrible crime, many believe it is a crime that does not happen in their community. Lack of knowledge about human trafficking- what it is, where it happens, and who the victims are- prevents people from taking action to stop it.  State legislators can lead the charge in taking this action by passing laws that not only criminalize human trafficking, but that give tools to law enforcement, raise awareness, and provide protection and assistance to victims. 

WHY DOES WYOMING NEED STATE HUMAN TRAFFICKING LAWS?

HUMAN TRAFFICKING HAPPENS IN WYOMING.  
Evidence and indicators of human trafficking can be found in Wyoming.  Human trafficking can be seen in:
 
  • Cases that have been prosecuted in Wyoming and in cases prosecuted in other states that show victims were moved through Wyoming (U.S. v. Jacobo Dominguez Vazquez (2007) and U.S. v. Askarkhodjaev, et al.(2010)).  
  • Stories from victims, service providers, attorneys, and law enforcement that show human trafficking is happening but that traffickers are operating with impunity.  
  • Calls from Wyoming to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline between 2007 and the present, including calls that were considered to be crisis calls, where a victim was in need of immediate assistance, and calls reporting tips.   
  • Advertisements in the adult section of websites like backpage.com and eroticmp.com reveal thinly veiled or even blatant references to commercial sex acts taking place in Wyoming. While these ads may be placed by non-coerced adults, anecdotal evidence from rescued trafficking survivors in other states indicates that publications like these have been used in the past to sell victims of human trafficking. 
EXISTING FEDERAL LAW ISN’T ENOUGH
 
Human trafficking has been a federal crime since 2000.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 made human trafficking a crime in the United States and also established some victim assistance programs. There have been successful federal prosecutions under the TVPA in Wyoming and in neighboring states.  The federal law has a role to play in ending trafficking, but the state law is a critical component of a comprehensive response to the crime.  Local officials are the experts on their communities and are the best suited to respond to instances of trafficking when they happen. Not every local case of human trafficking triggers the involvement of federal law enforcement or the application of federal law. In these cases, a state law should be in place to provide justice. If a federal response is required, Wyoming federal officials have shown themselves willing and able to step in, but this should not bar an effective local response.  
 
State laws are not intended to replace federal laws or a federal response to trafficking, but complement them. Sharing the responsibility between state and federal officials helps to ensure that neither is overburdened or lacks capacity to handle these types of cases. Increasing state capacity allows state officials the freedom to pursue human trafficking cases without having to worry about the availability of federal resources or the lack of federal will to pursue “smaller” local cases. Federal agencies and departments can investigate cases that cross state lines and leave the more localized cases to state officials. 
 
Outside of the law enforcement context, states are in the best, and sometimes the only, position to respond to other aspects of human trafficking.  This response includes developing training for law enforcement, judges, lawyers, agency officials, first responders, and others on how to spot human trafficking, investigate the crime, and best assist victims.  States are in the best position to provide services to victims and to implement legal protections so that victims are not penalized for crimes that resulted from being trafficked. 
 
CURRENT STATE LAW ISN’T ENOUGH
 
Wyoming has statutes on the books that could be used to prosecute both labor and sex trafficking activity, but they are not comprehensive. Some of the current laws that could be used to prosecute trafficking include: felonious restraint, promoting prostitution, and sexual exploitation of children. These laws have some of the criminal elements associated with anti-human trafficking laws but they do not cover all of the basic elements of a human trafficking statute, allowing instances of both labor and sex trafficking to fall through the gaps.
 
WHAT CAN THE WYOMING LEGISLATURE DO?
 
In 2013 a comprehensive human trafficking bill will be introduced in the Wyoming legislature.  This bill includes criminal provisions prohibiting sex and labor trafficking as well as tools for law enforcement and prosecutors. The bill also provides protection for adult and child victims of trafficking and provides for victim assistance.  Passing this bill will help victims receive justice and support and will send the message to traffickers that their activities will not be tolerated in Wyoming. 
 
WHAT DOES PASSING HUMAN TRAFFICKING LEGISLATION ACHIEVE? 
 
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have passed human trafficking laws.  Prosecutors have begun to use these laws in many states including: California, Louisiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Most of state investigated cases are sex-trafficking cases.  The cases vary in facts but include cases where victims were trafficked within the state and cases where victims crossed state borders. 
 
States have the freedom to develop laws to assist and protect victims in ways that are best for the individual state.  For example:
New York passed safe harbor laws that protect sex trafficking children from prosecution.  
Virginia passed legislation that calls for training for educators on human trafficking, including how to identify victims. 
Nebraska requires the National Human Trafficking Hotline Resource Center Hotline to be posted in designated areas through the state.
 
Human traffickers have been punished and victims protected as the result of the work of state legislators, law enforcement, and other state officials.  Wyoming has the opportunity to do the same. 
 
As we seek to put an end to this terrible crime in Wyoming, please support anti-human trafficking legislation as it comes up for a vote. To get involved in the WY campaign, contact Daniel DeCecco at wyoijm@gmail.com