On September 27th, Polaris – an anti-human trafficking nonprofit based in Washington D.C. – released their 2014 State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws, and there was both good and bad news for Colorado. The ratings’ release coincided with a panel presentation on Capitol Hill where senators, a trafficking survivor and Polaris policy experts shared information about the ratings. The panelists also noted where improvements could be made at state and federal levels toward addressing human trafficking in the United States.
The Polaris state ratings are based on a four-tier system, with Tier 4 being the worst rating. Each rating is comprised of 10 categories that total an amount of points to determine a state’s tier. This is the fourth consecutive year Polaris has rated all 50 states and the District of Colombia on human trafficking legislation. This year marks the first year there are no Tier 4 states, meaning that all states have enacted the minimal legal framework to combat human trafficking. Colorado was included as one of five states that has improved most since 2013 – likely due to the recent passing of House Bill 14-1273 and the heightened attention Colorado lawmakers have given to human trafficking in the last year.
However, this report is not all good news for Colorado. In addition to Polaris’ rating of human trafficking legislation, their 2014 report included a separate rating of states’ activities in victim assistance. The results were not as rosy. Twelve states fell into the Tier 4 category, including Colorado. Polaris’ results indicate that while Colorado might have passed significant laws to combat human trafficking, it has not met the minimum standards of addressing victims’ assistance and protection.
The panel implored increased vigilance by state representatives and lawmakers to strengthen human trafficking legislation. The strongest advocate for this was panelist Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking, author and advocate for survivors. After sharing her story, Holly offered tangible ways victims’ assistance can be improved through effective trafficking legislation. She emphasized the importance of involving survivors in the process of passing laws and utilizing their experiences to enhance the quality of resources available.
One resource Holly suggested improving was the public restroom posters that provide contact information for those who may be experiencing trafficking. Many states mandate these posters be in every public bathroom stall. While applauding this outreach, she commented that the posters would not have resonated with her teenage self being trafficked. She explained, “The poster describes trafficking as sex without consent. At 14, I would not have understood what consent was. Had the poster been worded differently, without the word consent, I might have related more to it.”
Such insights are imperative for furthering legislation that promotes victims’ assistance. Colorado is not in short supply of organizations working directly with survivors, such as Restore Innocence, and organizations working with populations vulnerable to exploitation, like the groups Prax(us) and Urban Peak. Lawmakers should be utilizing these connections to ensure Colorado finds itself on a higher tier in Polaris’ 2015 rating.
What are some ways you think Colorado lawmakers could effectively improve victim assistance laws in the state?