LEWISTON — Police and prosecutors on Monday bemoaned a lack of resources to help victims of human trafficking in Maine.

Two police officers, two county prosecutors and a state lawmaker comprised a panel invited to speak at City Hall in front of the Maine State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Two years ago, the committee found that Maine lacked many resources to support victims and needed more laws to punish traffickers. Although Maine has added teeth to trafficking laws over the past two years, victims continue to suffer from inadequate basics, such as clothing, food, shelter and counseling programs.

Faith-based groups have stepped in to fill part of that void, said Mark Keller, a Portland police officer. He said a small group of law enforcement officers have focused on the problem and are working to crack down harder on traffickers and clients while finding more services for victims.

Auburn police Chief Phillip Crowell, co-founder of Not Here, a statewide conference on human trafficking, said that despite a growing public awareness of the problem and increased arrests of traffickers, victims of the crime continue to go without needed “after care.” There is no system in place in the state designed to see to their needs, including drug detox programs, he said.

State Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, told the committee that two of four parts of a bill she sponsored aimed at combating human trafficking became law since the committee last met.

One of the two new laws will offer an affirmative defense for victims of trafficking. It also will increase access to compensation for victims paid through enhanced fines for traffickers.

Somerset and Kennebec County District Attorney Meaghan Maloney said she views sex trafficking in Maine as being an old problem that is “even more dangerous now.”

The passage of Volk’s laws has made a “big difference” in the way Maloney approaches the prosecution of prostitution, Maloney said, allowing her to focus her prosecutorial powers on the “people at the top of the pyramid.” She hasn’t criminally prosecuted any of the prostitutes who work for them, Maloney said, thanking Volk. “I really feel that (Volk) gave me the tool to be able to do that because I can’t prove a case unless (the prostitute) has an affirmative defense that she has been a victim of sex trafficking.”

Maloney echoed calls for more resources for the victims of human trafficking. “I am, of course, plagued with wondering if I’ve made their life better or worse. I don’t know because they no longer have a place to go to where maybe some of them felt at least there was some predictability there and now that has been taken away from them. And I haven’t replaced it with anything else. I haven’t said, ‘You can’t sleep here anymore, but you can go here and I can offer you these other services.’ I have nothing else to offer them. ”

Although Maine laws used to include “promoting prostitution,” it’s now called sex trafficking,

“That’s a big difference,” Maloney said. “Names matter.”

The change in wording rightly targets the traffickers, not the victims, she said.

Megan Elam, an assistant district attorney in Cumberland County, said she hadn’t seen a need for the new law, but has since been a convert.

She said she is happy to see in the past two years in that county an increase in human trafficking prosecutions that she hadn’t expected to see in her lifetime as a prosecutor. She gave an example of a man who was recently indicted by a federal grand jury who was charged with holding a 19-year-old Michigan woman at a Portland motel after threatening her with a gun.

“That’s a success story,” Elam said, who joined the chorus of panelists promoting the notion of increased services and programs for the victims. She said it remains the “greatest challenge.”

Victims should be given an opportunity to “get sober, get well and get out,” Elam said.

Monday’s public event drew more than a dozen observers, who were invited to participate in a question-and-answer session later in the afternoon.

The commission is an independent, bipartisan agency charged with studying and advising the president and Congress on civil rights matters and issuing an annual federal civil rights enforcement report.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: