United States: States Strengthen Anti-Trafficking Laws in 2014 but Victim Services Lag

Thirty-nine U.S. states have enacted meaningful legislation to fight trafficking in human beings, earning them “Tier 1” status from the Polaris Project’s annual State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws. Only eleven states qualified as Tier 1 in 2011, highlighting the rapid adoption of anti-trafficking laws in the U.S. over the past three years. However, most states have focused their efforts on law enforcement and strengthening criminal penalties for trafficking. The State Ratings found that only twelve states have adopted adequate programs to protect and assist victims of sex trafficking and forced labor. 

According to the Polaris Project, many states cite budget constraints as a primary reason for failing to help victims. Polaris Project policy counsel Brittany Vanderhoof stated, "[t]o truly address human trafficking, we must also ensure that the victims of this crime and abuse receive the assistance they need to rebuild their lives."

To compile the annual ratings, the Polaris Project tracks the legal framework in each U.S. state as of July 31 against ten categories the Project says are critical to “effectively combat human trafficking, punish traffickers, and support survivors.” States may earn up to twelve points depending on how well their laws measure up against the Polaris Project’s minimum legal standards. States are then divided into four tiers based on their scores. To earn a top tier or Tier 1 ranking, states must score at least seven points.

Three states, Delaware, Washington, and New Jersey, earned perfect scores. The two worst performing U.S. states were South Dakota and North Dakota, the only two states to earn a Tier 3 rating due to minimal efforts to combat trafficking or protect victims.

Compiled from: Dawson, Stella, U.S. States Boost Anti-trafficking Laws But Slow To Help Sex, Labor Slaves, Business Insider and Reuters (September 17, 2014);2014 State Ratings on Human Trafficking Laws, Polaris Project (September 2014).