We have had the 13th amendment since the close of the Civil War in 1865, yet in the United States, slavery has continued, primarily through the avenue of human trafficking. This plague on society, which centers on the inhumane and violent treatment of women through the sex trade, has a more acute presence in my own state of Maryland. So, for those of you who live with me in the ironically named "free state," I urge you to call your legislators regarding the information below and DEMAND that they take action.
Yesterday, I received information from Maryland's Safe House of Hope, a ministry linked tangentially with our Association of churches whose mission is to serve as a place of refuge for women who have been the victims of sex trafficking. If you are a fellow resident of the state of Maryland, then you and I live in a state that just last year received a grade of "D" from the Shared Hope Protected Innocence Report, which grades each state on how effective its legislative bodies are at putting an end to human trafficking. In short, they called Maryland legislators incompetent. And on this issue, they hit their mark.
In the next 10 days, you and I have the opportunity to change this. Read the report below, weep for the reality that is embedded in our own back yard, and call the offices of your state delegate and senator.
There are more than 500,000 professing Christians in this state. If the church rises in one voice on this issue and demands that our lawmakers take action, it could be the difference between life and death for many young women in our state. Call today!
'You can order a girl like a pizza'
Ten days are left to get bills through the state House and Senate to make human sex trafficking less profitable in Maryland. Without them, the forced prostitution of girls will continue to gross great wealth for pimps in Maryland. Nationally, prostitution was a $33 billion industry in 2012, importing 15,000 in addition to 100,000 U.S. teens.
"You can order a girl like a pizza; delivered to your place or you go to her place," Denene Yates, founder of Maryland's Safe House of Hope (email@example.com) told OneVoice Thursday, describing the scourge of sex trafficking in our state, and efforts to change the legal system and to bring hope to women trapped in an occupation they find disgusting but are helpless to escape.
Forfeiting Trafficking Profits
The state can require a person convicted in Maryland for the illegal sale of drugs to forfeit to the state his bank account, his car, everything used in his illegal activities. If a person is convicted in Maryland of trafficking a woman (pimping), the state cannot take his ill-gotten gain. He may go to jail for a year or two, but his profits will be there for him upon his release.
A bill to change that, Asset Forfeiture for Human Trafficking (HB 713), is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee because the committee chair, Joseph Vallario, again this year refuses to allow it to come to a vote, even though it has 80 cosponsors; over half of Maryland's 141 delegates. Your call will be answered by a clerk, who will add your call to a log of calls kept by category; in this case, trafficking.
The committee must be allowed to vote - and approve - the bill in the next ten days or there will not be adequate time for it to move through the rest of the legislative process, according to Nancy Winston of Shared Hope International, a trafficking advocacy group, who coordinates legislative activity in Maryland as volunteer Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To encourage Delegate Vallario to release this bill - and other trafficking bills - for a vote, call him at 800-492-7122, extension 3488 or e-mail email@example.com. Remind him that he was elected to protect our children. Pray the Lord will soften his heart. Your presence is also encouraged at a press conference on Tuesday, March 19, at 9:30 a.m. in Room 142 of the House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis MD 21401
Ignorance of Age No Defense
Thursday the Judiciary Committee approved a bill (HB 933) that would not allow a trafficking defendant to argue he was not aware of the age of the girl unless he can prove that he asked for valid identification to determine her age.
The bill now goes to the full House for a vote, then to a companion Senate committee, and lastly to the full Senate, before it goes to the governor for signature. Pray for rapid passage and signature.
Trafficking a Child Under Age 16
Maryland makes abduction a misdemeanor but says human sex trafficking is a felony, for which the perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to life. This bill (HB 943) argues that the prostitution of a girl under the age of 16 (the age of consent) is abduction for human sex trafficking and should carry the penalty for trafficking. The average age at which a girl enters prostitution is 12.
Trafficking 18-20 year olds
Like the bill regarding girls under age 16, this one (SB 215/HB 1188) changes trafficking a girl aged 18-20 from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Police typically see prostitution as a crime voluntarily committed by the female, who should be arrested. This bill (HB 1056) provides training to help police recognize human sex trafficking as male coercion.
Denene's initial focus is to go out on the streets at 2 or 3 a.m. so she can make a personal contact with a girl and encourage her to walk away from prostitution. Her biggest need is for a support relationship for a recovering girl with someone who will be there for her later when trouble comes and she needs a place to live, food, etc. Otherwise she has no where to go except back into prostitution.
The journey from entrapment to freedom goes through a walk-in center, a safe place to talk (pimps try to frighten girls into silence), and, when the decision is made to leave prostitution, a group home. Denene needs four couples who will live as house-parents in group homes. She provides ten weeks of training.
Girls who have been forced into prostitution usually come from homes where they have not been well parented. They are used to making demands and pushing until they get what they want. A house parent needs to be prepared to help the girl respect boundaries.
Taking a preemptive posture, Denene has begun going into poor neighborhoods with parenting classes. Her biggest need; money, and housing for girls.
She also calls the websites where men go to get a girl and speaks with the girls, asking them "what are you going to do for yourself?," encouraging a sense of self-worth. For more on Safe House, go to www.safehouseofhope.org.
"Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keepers," a group of congregational and social service agency folks, will host a morning focused on human sex trafficking on Wednesday, April 24, from 9 a.m. to noon at Bethany United Methodist Church, 2875 Bethany Lane, Ellicott City 21042. Denene will share, along with a representative of the "Howard County Advocacy Group Against Slavery & Trafficking (HoCoAGAST)."
Breakfast foods and beverages will be provided. If you would like to attend, please contact facilitator Linda Hayes at 410-461-8100 or Martin Brooks at 410-465-2919, extension 12.