Moments of bipartisan leadership are always notable in the Oklahoma Legislature. In 2013, we were glad to see a cooperative spirit prevail in the passage of a series of measures updating our state's laws on human trafficking.
Before last year, Oklahoma's laws often had the unfortunate effect of punishing the victims of human trafficking -- especially with regard to sex trafficking.
An editorial in The Oklahoman newspaper pointed out the problem: "A prostitution conviction creates enormous obstacles for victims of human trafficking seeking to re-enter society."
A record of arrest and conviction would often create havoc for those who were emerging from virtual sex slavery -- impeding their ability to find a job, rent a home, obtain credit, and so on.
Oklahoma's new laws -- approved by wide margins in the State Legislature -- give much-needed support to victims of human trafficking.
As described by The Oklahoman, the measures accomplish several inter-related goals:
|Rep. Sally Kern|
"House Bill 1067, by Rep. Lee Denney, requires... that criminal charges be dismissed against any child victim of human trafficking. Perhaps most importantly, HB 1067 requires that in cases of teenagers facing prostitution charges, 'there shall be a presumption that the actor was coerced into committing such offense by another person in violation' of trafficking laws.
"House Bill 1508, by Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, clarifies that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control has subpoena powers for crimes relating to human trafficking. All three laws passed with virtually unanimous support."
We think these new laws are smart and compassionate. They reflect a public policy viewpoint that was first advocated by the United Nations more than a dozen years ago.
It was in November, 2000, when the UN General Assembly approved the international "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children."
Some of the features of the UN Protocol (PDF) are mirrored in Oklahoma's legislation.
- The international Protocol defines Human Trafficking as the "...transport of persons, by means of coercion, deception, or consent for the purpose of exploitation such as forced or consensual labor or prostitution."
- The Protocol ensures that trafficked persons are not punished for any offenses related to their having been trafficked, such as prostitution and immigration violations.
- The UN Protocol facilitates the return of children who have been victims of cross-border trafficking.
|UNA-USA volunteer Amit Shah promoted awareness |
of the international protocol at a human trafficking
conference in Oklahoma City in 2011.
In Washington, DC, the U.S. Congress embraced the UN Protocol. It was ratified by the United States Senate in November, 2005.
As of October 2013, it had been ratified by 158 nations -- representing more than 80% of all UN members.
According to the terms of the Protocol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is responsible for implementing the provisions of the agreement. UNODC offers practical help to states with drafting laws, creating comprehensive national anti-trafficking strategies, and assisting with resources to implement them.
The Protocol commits ratifying nations to prevent and combat trafficking in persons, to protect and assist victims of trafficking, and to promote cooperation among states in order to meet those objectives.
Oklahoma is one of many American states to change its laws, over the course of the last decade, to reflect the new global consensus on human trafficking.
We're proud of the UN's efforts to fight crime and protect human rights. The UN has been a global leader in defining the crime of human trafficking and rallying state and local efforts to defend at-risk populations.
Like many other problems in our world today, human trafficking is a crime of such magnitude and atrocity that it cannot be dealt with successfully by any government alone.
It is one more example of why people in Oklahoma communities appreciate and support American leadership in the United Nations.
For more information about the UN’s efforts on human trafficking: www.una-okc.org/carina
In March 2009, UNODC launched the Blue Heart Campaign to fight human trafficking.