Kansas human trafficking law falls short, Polaris Project says

The Kansas City StarSeptember 12, 2011 

A national anti-trafficking organization is giving Kansas low marks on state efforts to police human trafficking, but Missouri fares much better.

Even though Kansas’ governor and attorney general have been strong voices against trafficking, an analysis by the Polaris Project found that the state still lacks the full arsenal of laws considered "critical to a comprehensive anti-trafficking effort."

“Missouri is in the best category and Kansas is in the second lowest,” said Mary Ellison, director of policy at Polaris. “And that is interesting because (Kansas Gov. Sam) Brownback has been such a champion on the human trafficking issue. Kansas has gotten a start, but there is quite a bit more to do.”

Kansas received only four of a possible 10 points in a state-by-state analysis by Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. Missouri scored seven out of 10 points in the same study.

“In Kansas, we are proud of our free-state history, and we are now bringing that strong spirit to the fight against the modern-day slavery known as human trafficking,” Brownback said in a written statement responding to the report.

The Republican governor added that his administration will continue to work with the state’s attorney general on the issue.

When he was in the U.S. Senate, Brownback co-sponsored the original federal anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 and has long been an advocate for tougher policing. And when he was majority leader in the Kansas Senate, Derek Schmidt, now the attorney general, successfully pushed amendments to the state’s existing human trafficking law that could force traffickers to forfeit their assets.

Schmidt said he would continue to discuss further steps Kansas can take to find, prosecute and incarcerate human traffickers. He added: “We welcome all suggestions, including these, and will continue efforts to strengthen our enforcement efforts.”

Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year worldwide industry, including in the United States, where sex and labor trafficking of Americans and immigrants are the most common forms of the crime. While Congress has passed tough anti-trafficking laws in recent years, the Polaris group said it’s increasingly important that states combat the crime on their own.

The Polaris study noted that Kansas still needs to adopt legislation that would broaden the state’s investigative tools. They include requiring training of local police, establishing an anti-trafficking task force, making victims aware of a national anti-trafficking hotline, offering more assistance to victims, allowing victims to file civil lawsuits against their traffickers, and vacating convictions for sex trafficking victims.

In Missouri, Rep. Anne Zerr, a St. Charles Republican who has championed tougher trafficking laws, welcomed the state’s relatively high ranking.

“I think we have gotten a lot done,” Zerr said, pointing to a new human trafficking bill signed into law last month by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

The law toughens current laws, calling for prison terms of up to 30 years — and life in some cases — and adding fines of up to $250,000.

To read the complete article, visit www.kansascity.com.

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