State Governments Take Action to Protect Trafficking Victims, Prosecute Traffickers

“The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.”

- Nahum 1:7

There has been a recent push in state governments to help victims of human trafficking be freed and to heal from the traumas of the crimes committed against them.

On July 1st, Idaho made “human trafficking” a standalone crime. Before this change, prosecutors had to charge a person with a separate crime and then bring human trafficking charges against them, which made it difficult to prosecute traffickers. Now, prosecutors can file charges against a person for human trafficking alone.

That same day, Idaho also passed a “safe haven” law:

“It allows a person to claim they’re a victim of human trafficking and use it as a defense if their crime was ‘committed as a direct and immediate result of being a victim of human trafficking’”.

These are incredible steps forward in Idaho’s legislation to help trafficking victims. Sex trafficking “occurs when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult or causes a minor to commit a commercial sex act” (Shared Hope International). 

According to Jennifer Zielinski, who is the executive director of the Idaho Anti-Trafficking Coalition, victims of trafficking rarely identify themselves. Thus, if traffickers are caught and charged, it is often for counts of child abuse or drug possession.

Read our previous blog post here: Funds Meant to Assist Victims of Human Trafficking Are Directed Elsewhere

In the 2018 Idaho State Police annual crime report, Idaho saw zero cases of human trafficking. It is important to note that at that time, the crime of human trafficking was not standalone. Interestingly, Zielinski says the organization she is a part of sees as many as four new victims per week. There is a discrepancy between what the crime reports show and what seems to be lurking in the shadows of the trafficking epidemic.

Paula Barthelmess, a trauma counselor from Treasure Valley, Idaho, estimates that 75 percent to 80 percent of the victims she works with have been trafficked by family members. She also states that it is common for wives to be trafficked by their husbands. Whether due to being in love with their trafficker (likened to Stockholm Syndrome, Zielinski says), addiction to drugs provided by the traffickers, or fear of retaliation and consequence, victims tend to internalize their trauma and keep quiet about their situations. At times, they may even wish to return to those circumstances because it is what they’ve known for so long.

However, there are ways to increase the likelihood that victims will come forward against traffickers. This month, the state of Nebraska passed a new law that takes away a statute of limitations for child victims to come forward against traffickers, and extends the statute of limitations for adult victims from 3 years to 7 years.

Additionally, Nebraska’s new laws allow for law enforcement to apply for warrants to tap phone calls of suspects, which in turn provides more opportunities to prosecute traffickers.

It is encouraging to see states take action to protect trafficking victims and double down on laws to prosecute traffickers. Even when victims are freed from trafficking, they feel as if they cannot speak up about their experiences. It is difficult to imagine the suffering that these victims endure, especially when they feel like they cannot grieve with others and begin the necessary healing process. At Catalyst Ministries, we strive to support the women who must face these struggles every day, and foster a community in which they can grow and learn. God is doing great work through these state legislations, and it is inspiring to see active and positive changes being made for a better future.

- Deanna

Proverbs 31:8-9