Sarah Wilbanks, SALI Policy Intern
Alison Branitsky, MCASA Programs Intern
Maryland serves as a hotbed for human trafficking. In 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline received 572 calls from Maryland, ranking Maryland as the 8th
highest state in volume of calls for the year.
Maryland has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country—but what makes Maryland uniquely situated to be such a hot spot for trafficking?
Maryland’s central eastern location makes it both a pass-through and destination state for human trafficking. Traffickers can easily utilize I-95, which connects victims to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., as well as some of the most populated cities in Maryland.
Casinos, sporting events, and tourist attractions in these major cities draw both traffickers and buyers, or “johns.” Truck stops, rest stops, and bus stations along I-95 are primary locations of human trafficking.
The NHTRC’s data suggests that around 70% of human trafficking incidents in Maryland take place at truck stops.
Additionally, Maryland and the surrounding area are home to major international airports. Airports not only serve to transport both domestic and international victims to the area, but “johns” traveling to the area for a short time are more likely to engage in illicit sexual activity because of the anonymity of being in a new location.
Maryland law currently contains several efforts to address the high prevalence of trafficking at truck/bus stops, airports, and lodging establishments in the surrounding area. Criminal Law § 19-103 requires that privately-owned bus station and truck stops post the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information signs in restrooms, while Criminal Law § 8-655 mandates that rest areas within the right-of-way of an interstate or highway post the NHTRC hotline information signs in restrooms. Criminal Law § 15-207 requires lodging establishments located on the property where arrests leading to convictions of prostitution, solicitation of a minor, or human trafficking have occurred to post the NHTRC hotline information signs in guest rooms.
Additionally, a number of bills were passed in the 2015 legislative session to help protect victims of human trafficking. Most notably, the General Assembly passed SB521/HB456, which established the Workgroup to Study Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking. Maryland’s human trafficking law, Criminal Law § 11-303, as well as federal law, identifies any minor used in a commercial sex act as a victim, with no requirement to prove force, fraud, or coercion. Yet, minors can still be prosecuted for prostitution under Maryland law. Victims can be re-traumatized by prosecution and become even more distrustful of law enforcement, further preventing victims from seeking services.
“Safe Harbor” refers to legislation aimed to address such inconsistencies by protecting victims of human trafficking who are under the age of 18 from being arrested and prosecuted for prostitution. Safe harbor policies either grant immunity from prosecution or divert minors from juvenile delinquency proceedings and direct victims to child welfare services. Services such as medical and psychological treatment, emergency and long-term housing, job training, and legal services are typically required to be made available to youth victims of human trafficking.
So far, at least 28 states have adopted some version of safe harbor legislation; some provide complete protection while others are less comprehensive.
Pursuant to SB521/HB456, a statewide task force will determine which agencies throughout the state are best suited to fill the needs of minors. The workgroup, whose members include representatives of TurnAround and of MCASA, as well as legislators, advocates, law enforcement, and survivors, will study what safe harbor policies Maryland should adopt and turn in its findings and recommendations by December 1, 2015.
Several other bills regarding human trafficking were passed this session. SB520/HB905 amended Criminal Law § 11-306 to create an affirmative defense of human trafficking for defendants charged with prostitution. Though this defense can only be used if the trafficker has been criminally charged, a conviction is not required. Also, SB335/HB847 establishes a law requiring that victims of human trafficking be exempt from paying certain out-of-state and out-of-region fees at community colleges. This will help victims of human trafficking to rebuild their lives and get training they need to ensure a safer future.
Maryland has taken several steps in the right direction. However, high rates indicate that human trafficking is an ongoing crisis in need of further remedy. MCASA looks forward to participating in the safe harbor workgroup as well as continuing to support anti-trafficking initiatives in the state of Maryland.
NHTRC. “Annual Report 1/1/2014 – 12/31/2014.” Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/sites/default/files/2014%20NHTRC%20Annual%20Report_Final.pdf
Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. “Human Trafficking in Maryland.” Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.mdhumantrafficking.org/maryland/
Polaris Project. “Human Trafficking Issue Brief: Safe Harbor, Fall 2014.” Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.polarisproject.org/storage/documents/policy_documents/Issue_Briefs/2014/2014_Safe_Harbor_Issue_Brief_Final_1.pdf
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Human Trafficking Overview.” Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/human-trafficking-overview.aspx
This article appeared in the Summer 2015 Issue