Shared Hope International

Connecticut received an “F” in their protection of child sex trafficking survivors.

Anti-sex trafficking organization Shared Hope International publishes annual report cards for U.S. states, assigning grades based on their non-criminalization of trafficking survivors. In June 2021, perhaps in response to their poor score, Connecticut passed House Bill 6657 – An Act Concerning Human Trafficking. The bill expanded the definition of sex trafficking to align with federal language and extended judicial relief to trafficking victims.

While I support this bill and its expansion of judicial relief, the action is not enough. HB6657 does not provide adequate protection for at-risk populations and does little to impede traffickers. Specifically, the bill does not address the inherent racism within human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 62% of those trafficked are Black. Conversely, buyers of victims services are usually white males.

Legislature must safeguard those communities of color most vulnerable to human trafficking.

Problems that arise with the introduction of HB6657 are the language used and the failure to include prosecution of buyers and traders. The amendment extends relief of charges for victims who can prove that their crime – such as theft or murder – occurred due to their circumstances. However, the caveat here is prove. How does one prove that they were trafficked? Who has the say in determining if the crimes committed by a victim were driven by fear of trafficker retribution?

We can see from the Chrystul Kizer case in Wisconsin that proving these circumstances isn’t easy. Chrystul is a young, Black woman – now 19 – on trial for the 2017 murder of her abuser and rapist. Rather than viewing Chrystul as a survivor of rape and human trafficking and allowing her legal protections under self defense, prosecution has deemed this case intentional homicide.

Chrystul Kizer’s process in court is vastly different from that of Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse was recently acquitted of five charges, including two counts of homicide following his shooting of three men at a protest in Wisconsin in August 2020. Rittenhouse is an 18-year-old white male from Illinois and claimed shooting in self-defense. He received donations totaling $200K to support his legal team and, during his trial, U.S. Rep. Matthew Gaetz (R-FL) stated he would make a great congressional intern.

The racial biases within the criminal justice system are clear and widen the justice gap.

Chrystul has been incarcerated since she was charged in 2017. Rittenhouse made his $2 million bail in November 2020, three months after his shooting. Kyle Rittenhouse fell into the classic judicial trope of “promising young man.” He will not feel the consequences of his incarceration – with support from a U.S. Congressman, he is unlikely to experience interpersonal stigma and with massive support from the right, this courtroom experience is unlikely to impede his future.

Women of color are not afforded that same privilege. Chrystul, like 180,000 previously incarcerated women, may be subjected to a lifetime ban on temporary assistance support (TANF). She will be discriminated against by landlords and future employers who perform background checks. And who knows what the impact that four years of prison food will have on her health.

To be sure, Wisconsin is different from Connecticut in many ways and you may believe this type of blatant racial discrimination wouldn’t occur here. However, in terms of racial, educational, wealth, and incarceration disparities, Connecticut is the Mississippi of the North. Connecticut incarcerates Latinx individuals over three times that of white individuals and the state maintains a Black/white prison disparity larger than 9:1. Connecticut leaders must improve protections for communities of color so trafficking survivors have justice.

Connecticut must also expand prosecution of buyers and traders of trafficked individuals. Expanding the human trafficking bill is all well and good, but if it is not followed by direct steps connecting survivors to resources within the state and removing buyers from society, then we are falling short. Love146 and

 Project Rescue are Connecticut institutions doing the work, but they are not supported by law. Enacting legal measures is the first step in changing perceptions and addressing racial biases across the state.

Acknowledging the discrimination within HB6657 is a necessary step in protecting populations vulnerable to trafficking. Then the real work begins.

Maggie Hart lives in Simsbury.