Sex Trafficking...in Maine?

Sex Trafficking in Maine

Sex Trafficking...in Maine?

by Sarah Ruef-Lindquist

At the Maine State Bar Association Annual Summer Meeting in Rockport in June, there was an unusual program for members of the bar. The program title "Sex Trafficking? We're in Maine!" stood out starkly from other continuing legal education program covering topics such as "Business Valuation" and "Civility Between Lawyers."

District Court Judge Joyce Wheeler, DA Megan Elam and criminal defense attorney Kevin Moynihan spent an hour reviewing the terrifying statistics and examples of cases in Maine. Human trafficking is probably the fastest growing area of organized crime in the world. According to UNICEF, two children are sold into slavery every minute. There are more people enslaved on the planet than any other time in history. Maine had 44 reported cases of human trafficking in 2012, and geographically they spanned the state. 

In 2014, as part of its ongoing Economic Security Initiative, the Fund made grants to two organizations addressing human trafficking, and a third on violence prevention more generally: the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP) and Family Crisis Services.

MECASA is building resources statewide to tackle sex trafficking, both in terms of support for survivors, raising awareness and supporting the legal and policy infrastructure to identify and prosecute this crime

"We will be expanding the availability of statewide anti-trafficking resources such as a Trafficking Victims Support Fund, a statewide anti-trafficking volunteer bank, and enhanced awareness-building tools and trainings for both providers and members of the Maine media about the issue," says Destie Hohman Sprague, program director at the MECASA. "This year's grant from the Fund will also allow us to continue to staff the statewide Attorney General's Human Trafficking Work Group, the state's only central body for anti-trafficking efforts in Maine."   

ILAP is helping immigrants across Maine obtain legal status, which increases their chances of avoiding or surviving domestic violence and human trafficking. Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to those who would enslave them while their legal status is in question, and they fear deportation or harm to their families. 

ILAP helps immigrant victims of labor and sex trafficking obtain special "T" visas that allow them to remain in the United States safely and legally. Executive Director Sue Roche shared a story about one of ILAP's clients: "Halima" was brought into the United States by a family that had been using her as an indentured slave since the age of ten in Djibouti. Here in the US, they kept her confined in their home and did not give her food or a bed to sleep on." She had to sleep on the floor in a closet and scavenged the kitchen for food after the family went to bed. After she was able to flee from the home, she found members of the community who helped her," says Sue. "They brought her to ILAP and we represented her in applying for a 'T' visa, which was granted. She is now on a path to citizenship and is safe for the first time. She is rebuilding her life in Maine and has a family of her own." 

Finally, Family Crisis Services in Portland will facilitate discussion groups with students at Deering, Portland and South Portland High Schools on preventing and ending violence against women and girls. These students include many English Language Learners and first-generation Americans who are very concerned about violence prevention. "The young women in our Global Girls Groups are raising awareness about dating abuse, sexual assault and sex trafficking through activism. They are educating their peers and the adults in their community about these important issues that put women at risk," says Karen Wentworth, Director of Prevention Services.       

The disregard for the value of human life that underlies this crime is very concerning, as is its frequency. Philanthropy in general and the Fund in particular can and should play a role in addressing this dark societal ill, to support all effective means of raising awareness, addressing the needs of survivors and investing in the infrastructure necessary to prosecute and prevent the trafficking of women and girls. 

Image courtesy of Susan Broadbent | Sun Journal via Bangor Daily News

 

Posted 08.23.2014 under News and Resources