January 11, 2019

Working towards a safer Maine for everyone

By Senator Bill Diamond

If there is anything we have learned from the last two years, it’s that our laws and practices need to do better by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. This includes survivors of human trafficking, who are often left out of this important conversation. And quite frankly, these brave individuals deserve much better.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and all across the country, activists, survivors and lawmakers stand up to raise awareness about this horrific practice that remains both pervasive and prevalent in our culture. Human trafficking is essentially the taking away of another individual’s rights — whether they are a child or adult — and forcing that individual into labor or sexual acts. It’s an ugly crime that happens right here in Maine. Research shows that many of the individuals forced into labor or sex trafficking are minors.

One of the challenges when it comes to human trafficking is that lawmakers and other officials struggle to understand the scope of the issue. According to a 2015 report, it’s estimated that that roughly 200-300 Maine people are trafficked each year. However, the report also confirms that most victims do not report the crime to law enforcement. That is heartbreaking. It’s clear we must do more within our existing laws to protect and reach victims.

This reluctance to share information seems to be a recurring problem within Maine’s reporting system, especially when including the child abuse cases from last year. It wasn’t until the tragic deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick that Mainers came out of the woodwork to share their concerns with the system and provide critical input. Mainers should feel confident coming forward with information and working with law enforcement to create safer communities and a more secure state. We cannot afford to keep waiting until it’s too late.

This session, I have sponsored legislation to protect minors in Maine from being charged with prostitution. It’s important to remember that the victims of human trafficking are just that — victims — and should not be held accountable for being forced to commit crimes against their will.

For victims of human trafficking, it’s important to know that there are resources in our state and our community to get help. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a great resource for victims. It’s a free, toll-free number that is available 24/7 and in more than 200 languages to provide resources, support and a pathway to freedom. To access this resource, please call 1-888-373-7888 or send a text message to 711.

At the end of the day, I believe we need to do more to protect the individuals from birth through adulthood from abuse. Human Trafficking Awareness Month is good because it reminds us that we still have a lot of work to do.

As always, please feel free to contact me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or (207) 287-1515 if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I will do my best to keep you updated on what is happening in Augusta as we work to strengthen state laws and improve our child welfare system. It’s incumbent upon us to better protect the people of Maine. Rest assured — this will be my number one priority this session.

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