State Legislation and Human Trafficking: Helpful or Harmful?
Human trafficking is the modern day form of slavery. Despite the fact that thousands of people are trafficked into the United Sates each year, the majority of U.S. citizens are not aware of the nature and extent of this problem. In 2000, the U.S. government passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) to combat this grave human rights abuse. This federal legislation takes a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem of human trafficking in the United States by acknowledging that effective prosecution cannot occur without safeguards and benefits for trafficking victims. To this end, the VTVPA enumerates many social services and individual rights to better protect victims. States, however, as they begin to pass legislation to combat the problem of human trafficking in their own jurisdictions, are not adopting the comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking taken by the VTVPA. State legislation has mainly focused on a mere criminalization approach, and this raises serious concerns about necessary victim protections and effective prosecutions of these cases.
This Note outlines the problem of trafficking of persons into the United States, how previous laws did not address the problem, and the essential provisions in the V’VPA that protect victims of human trafficking in the United States. It then examines current state legislation passed to combat the problem of human trafficking and weighs the benefits and possible negative consequences for victims of the mere criminalization approach taken by states. This Note argues that state legislation, which thus far has not included any of the comprehensive protections for victims found in the VTVPA, raises serious concerns about victims’ access to social service benefits, immigration status, witness protection, effective investigations, and legal remedies. Given these concerns, this Note concludes that states should tailor future legislation in this area to more fully meet the needs of victims. States should enact legislation criminalizing human trafficking only if the needs of victims are considered and should take a holistic approach in their own state legislation by adopting provisions similar to those found in the VTVPA.