Helping the Victims of Human Trafficking

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

An Associated Press story came out over the weekend about the growing realization that human trafficking victims are being prosecuted for prostitution, because state law does not adequately address the victimization of many prostitutes, especially minors.

Imagine that a teenage girl in your community is approached by a stranger who offers her a chance to make money. She may be poor and not have great prospects and, without agreeing to anything specifically, accompanies them to learn more. Once she is separated from her community and from her family, this individual or group of individuals beats her and then threatens to do her further harm if she does not work for them.

That’s how trafficking often works. It may not involve physical intimidation. Maybe they give her drugs and create a dependency they can exploit. Maybe they simply separate her from her caregivers and use money as a way to make her dependent on them.

House lawmakers have submitted bills to ensure victims are not prosecuted as prostitutes. I will be among those supporting a better system that does not penalize minors who are enticed or forced into prostitution.

Ironically, for a long time there was not even criminal law to address trafficking or pushing an individual into prostitution. Last year, lawmakers approved legislation that made trafficking acts a crime.

According to Oklahoma Against Trafficking Humans, a special agent on the Oklahoma City Human Trafficking Task Force reported that there are so many trafficking cases in the restaurant, hotel and farming industry in Oklahoma, that it is not financially possible to prosecute all of the cases. There were more than 100 child sex trafficking cases opened in 2010.

This is a topic I would like to continue to discuss in my district, especially with law enforcement, district attorneys and at-risk youth advocates.

I can be contacted at the Capitol office at (405) 557-7407.

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