State legislatures are targeting human trafficking, increasing criminal penalties and offering new help to victims, reports the Washington Post. The laws focus on practices that have remained largely hidden — traffickers’ coercion of victims into becoming prostitutes, forced laborers, or domestic slaves. Some states have introduced measurers that criminalize human trafficking specifically for the first time. Advocates say the efforts signal that lawmakers are gaining a fuller appreciation of the scope of human trafficking.
So far this year, more than 40 bills have been enacted and roughly 350 introduced. That compares with just eight bills adopted across the country in 2006, according to the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking group based in Washington. Ann Morse of the National Conference of State Legislatures said bills tackling human trafficking are “the latest big trend.” The efforts have followed coverage of high-profile cases and a growing grass-roots campaign among advocates. Bradley Myles of the Polaris Project says “trafficking” “makes people think of whips, chains, brute force and channel slavery.” In reality, he said, traffickers may simply use threats or blackmail, or confiscate a victim’s travel documents to gain control over them. Victims have included U.S. citizens forced into work without being moved across a border.