Residents in Maine are fighting back against sex trafficking. WCSH Portland reports that some citizens have joined together to start the Anti-Trafficking Coalition Manager at Preble Street in order to get people talking about this increasing problem in the state. One of the biggest issues that anti-trafficking groups such as these have found is that many people are ignorant to the fact that this problem exists. In fact, as he Program Coordinator for Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Destie Hohman Sprague, states:
"Maine is becoming quite well known as a recruiting ground for sex trafficking victims, in part, because the awareness is pretty low here."
In October, the group made big headway in being able to assist victims when they were granted $400,000 in federal funds to provide services to help victims turn their lives around. This is seen as a big accomplishment because using that money, they will be able to help victims start a new life.
Experts say that out-of-state sex traffickers are targeting 12 to 24-year-old women by promising them money, drugs, love or the chance for a better life. Instead, they are being trapped and forced into prostitution. Often, victims do not to come forward and report the crime for many reasons including embarrassment, fear and sometimes even because they develop feelings for their captors. The hope of establishing programs such as the Anti-Trafficking Coalition is to build a support network for the victims in an effort to bring them together and find new ways to prosecute offenders.
The Preble Street Coalition is part of a larger network called the Maine Sex Trafficking Exploitation Network. Together, they work to train social service providers, first responders and law enforcement agents on how this to recognize sex trafficking victims and provide assistance to them. Many victims are arrested for offenses such as prostitution or drug charges. The hope is that they can be recognized at this point as victims and an effort can be made to find those who have been profiting off of them.
In addition to these advocacy groups, new bills are also being proposed that could help trafficking victims. State Representative Amy Volk (R-Scarborough) recently proposed a bill that would create a trafficking intervention fund using money received from fining johns (those arrested for soliciting prostitution). The idea is to stop punishing the victims for minor crimes like prostitution and, instead, work to help them turn their lives around while working to stop those who have taking advantage of them. In addition to this bill, Maine passed an aggravated trafficking law last year that included higher penalties for anyone convicted of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is a difficult crime to stop because victims are also often afraid to speak up and evidence can be hard to come by. With measures like this, victims can be given the aid they need rather than developing criminal records for the crimes they are forced into committing. Hopefully, these steps can help towards making Maine a trafficking free state.