PERRY/Curbing human trafficking
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:00 AM
Human trafficking - the capture or forced use of humans primarily as sex slaves or slave labor - does not just occur in foreign countries by international criminals as was portrayed in the 2008 Liam Neeson movie "Taken." In that movie, a retired CIA agent decimates an Albanian underworld operation that kidnapped his daughter and rescues her shortly before she is taken off by an Arab sheikh after being bought on the black market.
In the movie, Neeson tells one of the Albanian kidnappers, "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you're looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it - I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you."
Neeson uses his skills; kills the bad guys; rescues his daughter; and lives to fight again in the 2012 movie "Taken 2."
Not everyone's father is an ex-CIA operative with super-spy skills. And not all victims fall to human trafficking overseas.
The Polaris Project, an advocacy organization combating human trafficking reports more than 5000 human trafficking cases in the United States last year, and Mississippi is not immune.
The Gulf Coast organization Advocates for Freedom told WLOX it has worked with victims as young as three years old, kept in a closet and sold by her own mother for drug money. A 22-year-old woman thought she was getting a ride home from an elderly woman, instead she was sold to four men. And a group of boys from Mississippi were taken to the Super Bowl in New Orleans by a family friend, went to the movies, dinner and then were sold to three men.
Last year, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood worked to pass legislative reforms to increase law enforcement actions against those who benefit financially from human trafficking, who fail to report the crime, or those who purchase labor or "services" of the victim. The measure also expanded victims' recourses.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker has introduced S.2564 to enhance combating human trafficking by the federal government. Wicker spoke about the "End Trafficking Act of 2014" on the Senate Floor last week. He said last month, federal law enforcement rescued 168 children and arrested 281 pimps in Operation Cross Country.
"Each year thousands of men, women and children are robbed of their basic freedom to live as they choose," Wicker said, "They become victims of a rampant and evil crime, coerced through intimidation and violence to work as laborers or prostitutes."
He said while sex trafficking affects people of all backgrounds and races, it disproportionately impacts women who make 85 percent of victims.
"Although news headlines often glibly refer to a 'War on Women' in political terms, we as policy makers might well devote more of our energy to the issue of sex trafficking: a real war, a daily war, a nightmarish war faced by the most vulnerable among us: young women who are bought and sold for sex against their will," Wicker said. He mentioned the House of Representatives had passed a package of bills on this subject. His Senate colleagues Marco Rubio (R-Florida), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) also have also anti-trafficking measures.
Wicker's bill seeks justice and rehabilitation for victims to lead healthy, free and productive lives. The centerpiece is a federal pilot program modeled on Hawaii's "girls' courts" to treat victims rather than prosecute them. It increases the statute of limitations for victims to file civil lawsuits against perpetrators and introduces criminal charges to those who benefit from commercially advertising the crimes. Wicker's bill also includes reforms to eliminate federal duplication and facilitate interagency collaboration, as well as enhancing penalties already in federal law.
"The United States remains the freest, most prosperous nation in the world. And yet, it is also a country where traffickers still find and transit victims, putting U.S. citizens and foreign nationals at risk," Wicker wrote in his recent column on this legislation. "Fighting human trafficking within our borders will not completely eradicate the problem, which affects some 21 million people worldwide. We can, however, serve as a model for other countries to follow and better protect those here at home."
"Taken 3" is in post-production and scheduled for a 2015 release. As more bipartisan action against human trafficking is taken on the federal and state levels, hopefully we'll continue to move toward a time when human trafficking is relegated to movie fiction rather than a community reality.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.