Thirty-nine states, including Arkansas, passed legislation against human trafficking this year. The legislation cleared both houses of the Arkansas Legislature unanimously - an indication of the universal urgency to find solutions. Even more notable at home is the toughness of Arkansas's law.
With its enactment of our new law, Arkansas strengthened its stance against human trafficking more than any other state, according to the Washington-based Polaris Project. The group advocates for stricter laws against human trafficking, and it had high praise for Arkansas's new law. The legislation expands the definition of human trafficking and makes it a Class Y felony, punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison. The measure also allows for victims to qualify for restitution and other services and provides law-enforcement officers with specialized training. The law also allows for the seizure of traffickers' assets and mandates the posting of the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Forced labor is one form of enslavement, but an increasing number of cases involve sex trafficking. This crime is being perpetrated in Arkansas and across America more than most people realize. Earlier this summer, a Little Rock man was convicted in federal court of sex trafficking. It was the first such conviction in the Eastern District of Arkansas, but the offense had been ongoing for quite some time. The U.S. Attorney said that a key factor in bringing cases of human trafficking to light is the awareness of others.
That awareness is spreading in Arkansas, thanks to the work of national and local organizations. Many companies in Arkansas's trucking industry, along with the nonprofit group Truckers Against Trafficking, are training drivers to look for and report signs of enslavement. Already, reports from Arkansas truckers are on the rise. Their watchful eyes across our state's roadways can be a powerful resource for law enforcement and may save lives.
Human traffickers target people who are often the most vulnerable in society. Commonly, victims are new to this country. They come after being promised a better life and a better job, but are tricked into owing their captors large sums of money. The only form of repayment these captors will accept is forced labor or the sex trade.
Fortunately, help is available for victims of these crimes. Partners Against Trafficking Humans, or PATH, provides safe shelter in Central Arkansas for individuals who gain freedom or escape. Knowing that help is available is certainly an incentive for those who are trapped in what they consider a helpless situation.
Criminals are trafficking women, men and children from coast to coast at appalling rates. While breaking the law, they are also robbing their victims of their liberty, one of the strongest tenets of our American way of life. In Arkansas, and every other state, prosecutors and law enforcement are acquiring stronger tools and more support to stop traffickers, and state agencies will protect survivors and help them reclaim their freedom.