Human trafficking is getting a lot of press in Maine right now — much of it discussing whether enough is being done.

But for those of us who have been working closely on this issue for the past few years, we know that the landscape today is radically different than it was just four years ago. Trafficking is an extremely complex issue, and developing meaningful, Maine-based solutions takes hard work and patience.

Let’s take a moment to celebrate a few of the successes that Maine has achieved using one simple formula: teamwork.

In the past four years, thanks to local, state and national partners, more than a thousand law enforcement officers and direct service providers have had training based on nationally-recognized best practices for response. In addition to this, public awareness events such as the Not Here conference have connected students and citizens with the issue.

Local efforts, such as the Androscoggin County Human Trafficking Task Force, the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation, and the Penobscot-Piscataquis Sex Trafficking Response Team are bringing multidisciplinary teams to the table, and developing a home-grown human trafficking response. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services, the sexual assault services provider in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, is a key participant in the local task force.

Maine is now the recipient of its first line of federal funding dedicated to trafficking victims; a two-year grant of $400,000 from the federal Office of Victims of Crime will support collaborative services and protocol development in southern Maine.

A new central resource about sex trafficking exists for the state, with information about state and federal law, model policies and protocols, and links to best practices. The website is www.mainesten.org, and we have the support of the Maine Women’s Fund and many other partners to thank.

As of last fall, the crime of aggravated sex trafficking is on the books, increasing penalties for offenders, expanding the definition of a human trafficking offense, and opening up civil penalties and restitution for survivors.

That bill was the result of careful work for many months with the Office of the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group, the Criminal Law Advisory Commission, and dedicated prosecutors and providers across the state. It was supported through the session with the leadership of the House and Senate chairs of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Earlier this week, the Legislature passed Rep. Amy Volk’s, R-Scarborough, proposal, in LD 1730, that will offer an affirmative defense for victims of trafficking, as well as increased access to victims’ compensation (and enhanced fines for offenders).

Still, there is so much work to be done.

While awareness of the issue is growing, the needs are growing as well.

Victims of trafficking and commercial sex exploitation experience an almost total loss of financial, educational, physical and emotional autonomy. Individuals engaged in trafficking are treated as a commodity or property, and are often reliant on a pimp, an employer, or an intimate partner to meet their basic needs. They may have limited or no access to the money that they earn; as a result, their ability to forge an independent, safe and self-reliant life is severely undermined.

Maine currently has limited specialized resources to meet these needs.

For that reason, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MECASA), with help from many partners, is launching the Maine Sex Trafficking Victims Support Fund this month. The fund aims to be a flexible, accessible and timely source of funds to support the immediate needs of victims of trafficking as they seek to increase their safety and start a new life.

Even with the progress we have made in recent years, there are many more steps Maine must take before we have the infrastructure to address the needs effectively.

Human trafficking is a complex issue, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There is only a multi-disciplinary approach. True progress happens when the process makes room for all of the players at the table to hash out the best solution for Maine: for the nuances of the Maine criminal code, for the realities faced by law enforcement and prosecutors, and for the true needs of victims of this crime.

We at MECASA are excited to be on that team, and we are energized to know that so many people and organizations, and in all parts of the state, have already contributed to this important work, and will continue to partner with us into the future.

Destie Hohman Sprague is the program director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She may be reached at: [email protected]

April in Sexual Assault Awareness month. A conference examining the exploitation of human trafficking will be held on April 10-11 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. For information, go to www.not-here.me

If you or someone you know is in crisis, the 24-hour hotline for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Violence is 1-800-871-7741.

For information about Mecasa, go to www.mecasa.org


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