HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Alabama lawmakers are expected to vote on legislation that will create a "safe harbor" for victims of human trafficking this legislative session.
WHNT learned the Safe Harbor Bill will be filed in the coming month. If it is passed, it would protect victims caught up in human trafficking. Experts say many victims are young teens. Law enforcement officials say under current law, victims could face prostitution charges, although that rarely happens.
At the same time, a series of anti-human trafficking related bills are moving through the federal system, but they have yet to pass.
One of the anti-human trafficking bills that just two weeks ago had broad, bipartisan support was filibustered and stalled Tuesday by Senate Democrats upset over anti-abortion language they claim was subtly inserted into the measure.
The Justice for Victims in Trafficking Act would create a federal fund for victims’ services and law enforcement tools financed by fines levied on convicted traffickers.
While lawmakers across the country continue to debate this new wave of anti-trafficking legislation, in north Alabama, the Human Trafficking Task Force is working to bring public awareness to what it says is a growing problem in the state.
"We are located withing a few hours drive from three major hot spots for trafficking, Atlanta, Nashville and Memphis," task force member David Pinkleton says.
Task force members hope to encourage more Alabamians to educate themselves on the issue. According to the group’s website, ENDITAlabama.org:
- Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world (second only to drugs)
- There are 27 million slaves worldwide
- 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked through the US annually
- The average victim is 12 years old
- 80% of victims are female, although the number of males is rapidly rising
Pat McCay is the secretary of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. She says contrary to what some may believe, most trafficking victims in north Alabama are not brought in from other countries. They are from right here in the Tennessee Valley -- many of them children.
Runaways are especially vulnerable, McCay tells WHNT News 19. According to the task force, within the first 48 hours of leaving home, one-third of young runaways become the victims of human trafficking.
The task force asks everyone to become familiar with the warning signs of human trafficking. You can find a list here.
If you or someone you know is caught up in human trafficking, help is available. To get help or report a tip, call (888) 373-7888. You can also text HELP to BeFree (233733).