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Md. must act to end trafficking of our children

Op-ed: Maryland must act to end the trafficking of our children.

In 2014, members of the Victim Services Subcommittee of the state's Human Trafficking Task Force identified and provided services to 396 victims of human trafficking here in Maryland. Of those, 381 were victims of sex trafficking, with 373 being U.S. citizens. Of those whose ages were reported, more than half were children.

Through increased awareness and training, we are able to identify and serve more human trafficking survivors each year, but more needs to be done.

In recognition of this, the Maryland General Assembly established a working group to consider Safe Harbor legislation for this year's session. Safe harbor laws are intended to address the inconsistent treatment of child victims and ensure that they are provided appropriate services and not criminalized.

Since the establishment of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force and greater attention to these issues throughout the state and its governmental agencies, much progress has been made to this end. In 2012, the trafficking of children was recognized in law as child abuse so the appropriate agencies could step in and provide the necessary services.

A comprehensive annual study conducted by Shared Hope International of 41 key legislative components for effectively responding to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking, however, shows Maryland's progress has stalled, with the state receiving a "C" rating for the past three years.

Now that the Maryland General Assembly has begun its 2016 session, we call on members to act on the recommendations of the work group and pass Safe Harbor laws to better protect our children and provide for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require.

Maryland has a dark past where slavery is concerned, but it also has a rich history of abolition. Indeed, the Araminta Freedom Initiative, which works to dismantle child sex trafficking in our region, takes its name from Harriet Tubman's given name, Araminta, which means "defender." Tubman returned time and again to Maryland, the state of her enslavement, to empower and walk beside others desiring freedom.

Just last month, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th amendment, which officially outlawed slavery in the United States. What should have been a celebration was tempered by the fact that modern-day slavery still exists, despite its official prohibition, in the form of human trafficking, which the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines as follows:

•Sex trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.

•Labor Trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Given its illicit nature, the magnitude of this continued practice in 2016 is hard to pin down, but we do know that it is the second largest criminal enterprise and the fastest growing.

We also know that human trafficking affects every country of the world, and the United States is no exception.

As President Barack Obama put it in a presidential proclamation recognizing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: "The bitter fact remains that millions of men, women, and children around the globe, including here at home, are subject to modern-day slavery: the cruel, inhumane practice of human trafficking."

Beginning this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us truly work toward that prevention the month calls us to, and not simply "awareness." Let us commit to continuing this legacy of ordinary people changing the course of history and finally bringing an end to slavery in all of its forms.

Alicia McDowell is executive director of Araminta Freedom Initiative; she may be reached at contact@aramintafreedom.org.

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