In its nascent discourse, human trafficking has become synonymous with a narrative of sexual exploitation, chains, armed thugs, and helpless victims held under purely physical duress somewhere in Asia or Eastern Europe. While there are cases that fall under this description, it's not an accurate representation of human trafficking. Sensationalist films like Taken that prescribe to this narrative tend to overshadow the uncomfortable reality of human trafficking. It's all around us and a part of our daily lives. You can't put human trafficking into neat little categories. It's a multifaceted, transnational and intersectional monster.
People also tend to forget that human trafficking is not just a "developing world" problem. It happens everywhere. Yes, that includes the United States.
The Polaris Project, a D.C based NGO fighting against human trafficking, has been releasing annual reports rating all 50 states and the District of Columbia since 2011. The ratings are "based on 10 categories of laws that are critical to a basic legal framework that combats human trafficking, punishes traffickers and supports survivors."
By outlining what each state is and isn't doing to end human trafficking in the U.S, the report illustrates that human trafficking occurs in every part of the country.
Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project, gave some encouraging news and constructive advice in the organization's press release:
Over the past year, the momentum among advocates, legislators, and state officials to pass robust laws combatting human trafficking has been inspiring...We’ve witnessed a historic turning point now that all fifty states have passed laws criminalizing human trafficking. However, criminals are trafficking women, men, and children from coast to coast at horrendous rates. In every state, we need to give prosecutors and law enforcement the right tools to stop traffickers, and state agencies must have the ability to protect survivors and help them reclaim their freedom.
Here are some interesting take-aways from this year's report.
1. Thirty-nine states passed new laws to fight human trafficking in the past year. That means every state now has a law on the books.
2. New Jersey and Washington are the states with the best laws to combat trafficking on the books, receiving perfect scores.
4. South Dakota is the only state with a Tier 4 status, meaning it has not even met minimal standards to enact a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking.
Below is a visual breakdown. For the whole report, check out the Polaris website here.