While national anti-human trafficking initiatives, such as the Blue Campaign and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, are relatively well-known, several state attorneys general have been outspoken leaders in the fight against human trafficking through legislation, initiatives dedicated to public education and awareness, and victim recovery.
Many of these initiatives will be highlighted at the upcoming National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Southern Region Meeting, to be held in Richmond, VA on August 23 and 24. Hosted by Virginia Attorney General and NAAG Southern Region Chair Mark Herring, the conference will address ways that attorney general offices can combat sexual and domestic violence, including discussions on best practices for recognizing and prosecuting sexual violence, ensuring victims’ rights, and promoting criminal justice at the local, state, and national levels.
Conference moderator and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch recently joined Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors to discuss initiatives in their own states and how state attorneys general can work together across jurisdictional and partisan lines to combat human trafficking and combat victims. Fitch and Connors serve as co-chairs of the NAAG Human Trafficking Committee, which provides a collaborative forum for attorneys general and promotes best practices for combatting trafficking through education, investigation, prosecution, victim protection, prevention, and outreach.
Both Fitch and Connors have long supported initiatives against human trafficking in their respective states. Mississippi, for example, recently instituted a statewide campaign to educate and inform people across the state about the dangers and warning signs of human trafficking. The initiative includes billboards, public service announcements, and information provided in key transit hubs, such as welcome centers and rest stops. The campaign seeks to make it easy for individuals to report tips to the national sex trafficking hotline or to the attorney general’s office, where dedicated investigators and prosecutors can effectively gather information and react accordingly. As Fitch emphasized, public awareness and widespread education are critical to ensure that the attorney general’s office has the information it needs to investigate and prosecute perpetrators. Moreover, Fitch sits on the Mississippi Human Trafficking Council.
Meanwhile, in 2020, Hawaii’s legislature passed a comprehensive reform of the state’s sex trafficking laws that added concrete measures to better investigate and prosecute traffickers, while improving outcomes for victims and survivors. For example, the law now refers to commercial sexual exploitation rather than prostitution, shifting the focus from the victims to the bad actors. The new measures also eliminated the statute of limitation, increased the level of offense for commercial exploitation of children, criminalized the exchange of “anything of value” as a means of compensation, and implemented strict liability so that consent is no longer a defense against prosecution when minor victims are involved. Bad actors also can no longer escape prosecution by hiding behind an intermediary.
Emphasizing that human trafficking is a criminal enterprise like any other focused on financial gain and driven by supply and demand, Fitch and Connors also highlighted the need for coordination across jurisdictions, not just among state attorneys general but also federal and local partners, to create a common discourse and a nationwide system of support. To that end, they and other attorneys general will continue to focus on better educating the public and more effectively prosecuting perpetrators of human trafficking and related crimes.
As state attorneys general continued to lead in the fight against human trafficking on the state, national, and international level, we will continue to highlight these efforts and opportunities for nongovernment actors to jointly participate in this mission.