Ending human trafficking and protecting endangered children must become a policy priority in Connecticut. This year the judiciary committee introduced H.B. No. 6657: An act concerning human trafficking. This bill raises some important and necessary statutory remedies to issues regarding human trafficking in Connecticut.

For many, human trafficking means the sexual exploitation of young men and women. In reality, it is much more than that. Human trafficking is defined as any situation of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. Often overlooked, labor trafficking the crime of using force, fraud, or coercion to induce another individual to work or provide service. Common types include agriculture, domestic work, restaurants, cleaning services, and carnivals.

Human trafficking disproportionately affects communities of color, and specifically, girls of color. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 62% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are African American.

Leonela Cruz, Director of Project Rescue CIRI, the Anti-Human Trafficking Program at the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, discussed how traffickers don’t fit a specific stereotype. “Anyone can be a trafficker; spouses or family members can all be traffickers. Youth can continue going to school and living at home while being trafficked.” At any given moment, an estimated 40.3 million people are being victimized in situations of trafficking and exploitation (including forced marriage) worldwide. Of these, 25% are children.

Coming forward is not an easy task as victims may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession of or have control of their identification documents.

According to the International Labour Organization, money is the primary motivation for human traffickers.

There is a common misconception that human trafficking only occurs in developing countries, but it actually happens right here in our backyard. There have been reports of human trafficking in every county in Connecticut.

On March 25, Erin Williamson of Love 146, an organization that works to end human trafficking and provides direct services to child trafficking victims, testified before the Connecticut House Judiciary Committee in favor of H.B.6657.

She explained, “currently our definition of human trafficking says that trafficking must occur in exchange for a fee, while in reality they are exchanged for other items such as drugs, shelter, and other items of value.”

Unfortunately, under our current law, children who are exchanged for items of value rather than money are not being recognized as victims. Consequently, they are not able to receive services such as Love 146’s survivor care that supports victims as they recover and gain independence. Williamson says, “research does show that if you have friends or family members that have been trafficked, you are at higher risk of being trafficked yourself, so in order to decrease generational trafficking we have to get these victims services.”

Section 4 of H.B. 6657 will redefine sex trafficking by changing the language to extend to victims who are trafficked for other items of value. The new definition will align with the federal definition of trafficking and make sure victims aren’t dismissed and are able to receive services.”

Williamson says, “the exploitation those children experience, the violence they experience, the rape they experience is exactly the same whether the exchange takes place with money or drugs or other items.”

Importantly, Section 3 of CT H.B. 6657 also establishes an affirmative defense for victims of trafficking. Many victims are used to groom and recruit other victims. Now legislation will ensure that victims who engage in criminal conduct have legal options that take their own victimization into account.

In addition, Section 7 of the bill expands vacatur relief for a person who is convicted of a crime while a victim of trafficking. The current human trafficking statute only allows for victims to vacate prostitution charges. Section 7 of the new bill will expand the vacatur statute to include any charges, so now victims who were forced to carry drugs or commit other “crimes” as a part of their victimization will be able to vacate those charges. If passed H.B. 6657 will finally allow all Connecticut victims of human trafficking to move forward to rebuild their life irrespective of their past.

However, the work does not stop here. We must recognize systemic failures that allow for the ongoing exploitation of children. Passage of this bill is only a first step that legislators must take so victims can receive the care and protection they deserve. You can find your representative at www.cga.ct.gov/ and let them know you want H.B. 6657 passed. We must all work together to end human trafficking for good.

Kaylen Jackson is a student in the Public Policy and Law program at Trinity College and a Communications Assistant for the World Affairs Council of CT

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