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February 05, 2013 8:43 am

EDITORIAL: Fighting human trafficking

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Human trafficking may seem like a foreign concept in Wyoming. Yet, here in our rural state, cases of modern-day slavery occur — humans are bought, sold and smuggled, forced to work or prostitute themselves.

“If you think it doesn’t happen in Wyoming, think again,” said Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, during recent debate on a bill that would make human trafficking a crime in the state.

Wyoming is the only state in the nation without a comprehensive law specifically addressing human trafficking. Thankfully, it appears that won’t be the case for much longer.

Legislation to combat human trafficking received strong support in the Wyoming House of Representatives, passing third reading with a unanimous vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Reports in recent years slammed Wyoming for lacking human trafficking laws.

With the new legislation now moving forward, law enforcement officers and attorneys will have a legal framework at the local level to prosecute these cases and assist victims. It’s long overdue.

In the past, human trafficking cases in Wyoming were prosecuted at the federal level or under a combination of state laws.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, recently described the difficulty of putting pieces of state law together to convict three men involved in the forced prostitution of a 12-year-old girl. The girl was held in a Jackson motel where she was raped repeatedly, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

“Without a tough anti-trafficking law on the books in Wyoming, cases that do not rise to the attention of federal prosecutors slip through the cracks. Wyoming needs to send a message loud and clear to would-be traffickers: Not in our state,” Rep. Gingery said in a Polaris Project press release. Gingery works as a Teton County deputy attorney and co-sponsored the bill.

Another case in Wyoming involved Filipino hotel workers in Douglas and Casper. An out-of-state firm brought the workers here. Those who complained about unfair wages or unacceptable living arrangements were threatened with physical violence or deportation.

Other human trafficking victims may not live or work in the state, but travel through Wyoming on Interstate 80.

By passing a state law, Wyoming legislators acknowledge that human trafficking exists here, but it will not be tolerated. The proposed legislation also provides protection and assistance for victims.

Human trafficking often involves the most vulnerable populations — children, women, runaways and immigrants. As a state, we have a responsibility to ensure they have a voice, they are protected and that justice is served.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 05, 2013 4:29 pm posted by Tracie Jordan

    Wyoming needs tough laws for human trafficking. How sad this has not been taken care of before now, for our most vulnerable population. Lets get these people and put a stop to this extremely horrible offense.

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