CHEYENNE — The leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery lauded the state of Wyoming on Wednesday for finally adopting a law to combat the practices.
The Polaris Project lifted its Wyoming rating from zero to tier two, with four being the highest, as a result of the legislation signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead last winter. Wyoming became the final state to adopt a statute outlawing human trafficking. Federal authorities previously had prosecuted such cases in Wyoming.
The group’s representatives also commended state Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, the chief sponsor of the bill.
A University of Wyoming student group, the International Justice Mission Chapter, also worked for passage of the human trafficking law. The students gathered more than 900 signatures on a petition, which was forwarded to legislators.
James Dold, a senior policy analyst for the Polaris Project, said Wyoming’s jump from no rating at all to a tier two is “amazing.”
Wyoming earned its status because the state law covers six of the 10 categories the Polaris Project requires for a tier four rating.
Only Washington and New Jersey have achieved tier four, because of laws that combat human trafficking, punish traffickers and support survivors.
Wyoming’s law covers sex trafficking; labor trafficking; training for law enforcement; no requirement of force, fraud or coercion for minor victims of sex trafficking; and victim assistance. It also allows convictions of prostitution to be expunged from a victim’s record.
Bradley Miles, the chief executive officer of the Polaris Project, said human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime worldwide and is much more prevalent than people realize.
People are becoming more focused on it, he said, “because the issue is so real.”
The Polaris Project, founded in 2002, works on all kinds of human trafficking, he said, and has helped more than 600 survivors and connected 10,000 victims to services.
Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain and co-chairman of the Arizona Human Rights Task Force, said during Wednesday’s media conference that human trafficking is a human rights issue.
McCain told of how she has been haunted by an experience she had in Calcutta several years ago when she went shopping for a gift for the McCains’ daughter, who is from Bangladesh.
While in the store, she heard noises coming from below the floor.
The shopkeeper blamed dogs for the noise.
But McCain said she looked down and could see into the room below through a gap in the floorboards.
“I saw all these little eyes looking up at me,” she said.
She assumed they were little girls.
“I walked out of that shop and I didn’t do anything,” McCain said.
At that time, she added, she didn’t know anything about human trafficking.
McCain said she intends to work for passage of stronger laws in the Arizona Legislature in January, because the state lacks a unified effort to provide services for trafficking victims.
Wyoming still needs laws dealing with asset forfeiture, investigative tools, a human trafficking task force, posting of the national hotline, safe harbor for minors and a civil remedy for victims, according to a Polaris Project media release.
The Polaris Project recommends calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 to get help, report a tip or request information or training.