A multitude of groups gathered at Embassy Suites in Montgomery Friday for a convention aimed at finding ways to end the scourge of human trafficking in the state, the majority of which threatens minors.
Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia Hills) chairs the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force and was on-hand to welcome guests to Friday morning’s convention.
“I don’t want to sound like Donald Trump,” Williams said. “But this is going to be a great conference.”
“The whole idea here is to exchange ideas and learn,” Williams continued, after brief statements from Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. “The issue that we’re dealing with, for many, many years, was an issue in the rough part of town. This is no longer an urban problem, this is a problem that’s pushing outward.”
At the conclusion of Williams’ statements, Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Nic Seaborn made brief statements concerning his own encounters with the illegal sex trade in Alabama, which he said is taking place only blocks from his church.
“The problem of sex trafficking is knocking on our door,” Seaborn said, as he rapped on the podium. “It’s like a cancer, it is spreading into our neighborhoods.”
The first speaker of the day was Rachel Harper of Shared Hope International, who touched on the specifics of Alabama’s human trafficking problems and ways to tackle it.
Just between January and February of this year, more than 1,900 ads for female escorts were displayed in Alabama. An Alabama State University study found that, in the 15 markets explored, one in 20 men are soliciting sex online, about 90,000 men in Alabama.
“It’s everywhere,” Harper said. “It’s rampant.”
Harper noted that 80 percent of buyers say jail time or public exposure would thwart their efforts, but Alabama is lacking in substantive laws to protect children and prosecute buyers.
According to a presentation from Harper, Alabama is one of only a handful of states with no Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) laws, meaning the state’s laws are designed to capture traffickers rather than buyers, which are more often than not complicit in the maltreatment of enslaved children.
In Alabama, the law requires proof of “force, fraud or coercion” before a human trafficking charge can be levied, leaving buyers an out if they claim ignorance to the age or conditions of the purchased sex worker.
Further, according to Harper’s presentation, there is no legal differentiation in the state between purchasing sex from an adult or a child.
While the various groups gathered distributed handouts regarding ways to identify endangered children – inability/fear to make eye contact, may have “brand” tattoo, lying about age or possessing false identification and more – people are encouraged not to attempt to rescue victims.
Human trafficking, also known as “Modern Day Slavery,” is the second largest criminal industry in the world and generates about $32 billion annually and predominantly victimizes females, a large portion of which are children.
Williams plans to bring forth a “Safe Harbor Act” during this year’s legislative session, which will ensure that children ensnared by human trafficking are classified as victims rather than criminals.