April 17, 2012 Print

Symposium Highlights Child Sex Slavery

by Karla Dial

Law enforcement officers, policymakers and social justice activists met for four days late last week in Salt Lake City, learning about the issue of sexual slavery from the women who’ve survived it firsthand.

The Trafficking in Persons Symposium brought all those groups together to discuss several facets of the problem — including domestic and international sex trafficking, illegal immigration, how police can more accurately spot trafficking victims, and what society can do to help them. The Department of Justice organized it as part of a conference on missing children.

Several of the women who spoke were bought and sold for sex while they were still children; the average age in which girls are forced into prostitution in this country is 13.

“Every police officer in every state needs to understand what human trafficking is,” said Kirk Torgensen, the chief deputy for Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “Until we get those officers all knowing what they’re looking at, we’re going to miss so many cases.”

The need for that kind of awareness isn’t specific to Utah. Last December, Shared Hope International (SHI), which took part in the symposium, released the results of the Protected Innocence Initiative — an analysis of six key areas of law, including statutes cracking down on buyers, traffickers, hotel operators and other facilitators of child sex trafficking, as well as those protecting children and giving law enforcement the kinds of tools they need. SHI then graded each state based on those results.

Utah was one of the 26 states receiving an F on the report card. The highest grade was a B, awarded to Illinois, Missouri, Texas and Washington.

Under current Utah law, children must also be the victims of force, fraud or coercion to be considered “trafficked,” and the penalties for adults who buy sex with children are no harsher than when they buy it from other adults.

So far, the response has “been very promising,” said SHI Senior Director Samantha Vardaman. “At last count, we had close to 200 bills introduced in 37 states that respond to one or more of the 40 components of law within the Protected Innocence framework. We are tracking those bills now to see what passes and what doesn’t, and also to assist and support the legislators who’ve taken on the challenge (to raise their grades).”

The second annual report cards will be released at the end of November.

Watch video clips of the symposium.

Learn more about the Protected Innocence Initiative.

Interested in helping your community become more aware of domestic child sex trafficking and how to respond to it better? Shared Hope International has a resource page full of tips.