By Alex Fitzsimmons
Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry that ensnares hundreds of thousands of victims each year, including an estimated 100,000 children. States play a key role in combating human trafficking, but could do more to eliminate the scourge of “modern-day slavery,” said Oscar-winning actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Mira Sorvino at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) Fall Forum in Washington, D.C.
Speaking at the Forum’s plenary session on Thursday, Sorvino offered recommendations for improving the legal framework for states to punish traffickers and support survivors. Specifically, she urged states to strengthen “safe harbor” protections for minors, pass more robust asset forfeiture laws to make business more costly for traffickers, and crack down on the “Johns” who she said are often let off the hook.
“It’s not okay to just do it from the supply side,” she said in pushing for a strategy that combats demand as well as supply. “The atmosphere of vulgar profit and impunity must end.”
Sorvino, who presented a litany of charts, graphs, and issue briefs for attendees to digest, highlighted a map produced by the Polaris Project that ranks all 50 states on 10 categories of laws deemed critical for curtailing human trafficking. Polaris ranked 21 states in the top tier for passing “significant laws” related to human trafficking, while relegating 13 states to the bottom two tiers for making “nominal efforts” to address the issue.
After sketching out the major themes in human trafficking and imploring the assembled legislators and legislative staff to act, Sorvino turned the floor over to Holly Smith, a human trafficking survivor. Smith said she was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City after running away from home at age 14.
“I stand here today to tell you that victims or human trafficking are not lost causes,” said Smith, who said she graduated from college with high marks and became a microbiologist after escaping her traffickers. Smith is living proof that, as Polaris puts it, “what you’ve been through is not who you are.”
During the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, 40 states enacted 168 laws related to human trafficking, according to NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program. Perhaps Sorvino’s appeal will help push that number even higher in 2013.
“Will we be able to look our children in the eye and tell them we did everything we could?” asked Sorvino.
Click here for POLITICO’s coverage of Mira Sorvino’s plenary speech at NCSL’s Fall Forum.