LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas ranks near the bottom in a new report that compares states’ laws addressing human trafficking.
The annual report by the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project groups Arkansas with Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming as the “Faltering Four” states, or states that have not enacted a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking. Last year, Arkansas was ranked as one of “Nine Lagging Behind” states.
Polaris Project assigned points to each state based on the anti-human trafficking laws it has enacted, with 12 being the highest possible score. In the 2012 report Arkansas scored a 2 for its 2005 law making human trafficking a Class A felony punishable by six to 30 years in prison and fine of up to $15,000.
Washington state scored highest with 11 points and Wyoming scored lowest with -2.
Polaris Project faulted Arkansas for lacking laws requiring forfeiture of traffickers’ assets; requiring special training for law enforcement; creating a human trafficking task force; requiring posting of the number for the national human trafficking hotline; providing protections to minors who testify against traffickers ; providing assistance to trafficking victims; making civil remedies available to victims; and vacating the prostitution convictions of women forced into prostitution.
The group also said Arkansas should not require proof of force, fraud or coercion to convict a person of sex trafficking if the victim is a minor.
To date no one has been charged under Arkansas’ existing human-trafficking law. James Dold, policy counsel for Polaris Project, said that fact was not taken into account in calculating Arkansas’ score because the report does not evaluate the effectiveness or enforcement of state’s laws.
“The report itself is meant to be a limited snapshot, just of the laws that are on the books — whether a specific statute is either present or absent in a state,” he said.
State Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, said it was “disheartening” to see Arkansas among the lowest-ranked states in the report, but he said it “just shows that we still have work that we have to do.”
Meeks is working on a human-trafficking bill that he plans to propose during the legislative session that starts in January. The bill is based on a model created by Polaris Project, but Meeks said he expects it to go through some changes between now and January.
“We’re working with other legislators, law enforcement and other stakeholders, with the (advocacy) groups and everything, to see exactly what’s right for Arkansas,” Meeks said.
He said he is not aware of any opposition to the proposal and noted that people on both sides of the political aisle, including Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, have been working on it.
Dold said Polaris Project’s annual report is intended to challenge states to improve their laws on human trafficking, and Arkansas appears to be rising to the challenge.
“Law enforcement, prosecutors, they’re all on board,” he said. “Despite the negative rating, things are moving in Arkansas.”
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