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Midyear Meeting

ABA moves to press for justice and seek help for victims of human trafficking

Posted Feb 11, 2013 3:00 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The ABA House of Delegates on Monday approved a series of resolutions addressing human trafficking, a key issue for ABA President Laurel G. Bellows.

Bellows told the ABA Journal last summer she finds it shocking that human trafficking doesn't get more recognition as one of the country's most serious crime problems. "This is modern-day slavery within the borders of our own country,” Bellows said. Every year “we have approximately 100,000 U.S. citizens who are being forced into labor or sex for the profit of their captors.”

The four resolutions approved by the House, 104F, G, H and I, recommend that:

• Laws and policies should be enacted so that victims of human trafficking are not subject to arrest, prosecution or punishment for prostitution or other crimes that are a direct result of their status. The victims should be provided appropriate protection when there is a threat to safety, and they should be assured that their names won't be disclosed to the public. They also should be offered housing appropriate for a victim.

• Laws should be adopted allowing victims of trafficking who are charged with prostitution or other nonviolent offenses to assert an affirmative defense of being a human trafficking victim.

• Laws should be adopted allowing trafficking victims to vacate criminal convictions involving prostitution and other nonviolent crimes that are a direct result of their victimization.

• Bar associations, working with others with expertise, should develop more training programs to help judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, civil attorneys, police and immigration officials identify trafficking victims. The training should enable such lawyers and officials to direct victims and their families to agencies that can help. The training would also help lawyers and officials communicate effectively with trafficking victims who have experienced trauma.

Jimmy Goodman of Oklahoma, chair of the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking, spoke on behalf of the resolutions. Modern day slaves are not shackled through steel chains, he told the ABA House. They are shackled through fear, coercion, beatings, gang rapes, torture and threats. “I request your outrage at the existence of slavery,” he told delegates, in way that is transformed to passion on behalf of the goals of the resolutions.

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