Since the Polaris Project first identified Arkansas as a state that did not have a plan to fight human trafficking within its borders, the state has made significant changes.
During the 2013 legislative session, Act 133 was passed to increase the penalties against traffickers and to protect victims. Within the state, human trafficking is now a Y felony, the most severe type of charge. If convicted, a perpetrator faces 10 to 40 years or life in prison.
New legislation allows trafficking victims to collect restitution, makes it a felony knowingly to patronize a prostitute who is a victim of trafficking, and allows trafficked victims charged with prostitution to use their trafficked status as a defense.
The law also authorizes the attorney general to create a task force on human trafficking.
On Wednesday, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel named 40 people to that task force to raise awareness of human trafficking and to prevent it.
“Human dignity is beneath the dignity of the people of Arkansas, and it takes all of us working together to prevent it,” the attorney general said Wednesday.
The panel will be tasked with developing a comprehensive plan to prevent trafficking, and it will help law enforcement agencies and related government agencies to work together to identify traffickers more efficiently. It will also develop a curriculum for law officers, attorneys and judges on identifying and questioning the victims of trafficking.
Although it is hard for many to imagine that trafficking takes place in Arkansas, statistics from Polaris suggest it is.
From Jan. 1 through June 30, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center took 14,898 calls, of them 105 were from Arkansas. A map shows the greatest concentration of calls came from the Little Rock-Pine Bluff area, Fort Smith, northwest Arkansas, the area west of Memphis and along Interstate 40.
Analysis shows about 69 percent concerned sex trafficking and 15 percent involved labor exploitation. Eight of the 105 calls involved minors. It’s likely, of course, that trafficking is underreported by victims and those they come in contact with.
Although traveling is not required for a trafficking charge, it is not unreasonable to assume that within the United States when victims are transported, they will travel along the same routes as illicit drugs travel. That would explain the concentration of calls along the I-40 corridor.
But law enforcement has not developed the strategies for identifying and interfering with trafficking as it has for the illegal drug transportation.
We hope that the new task force will be able to develop such strategies so it can disrupt trafficking wherever it exists within the state.
It’s good to see Arkansas on the front lines of the battle, even if we do not yet know the extent of that battle.