McCain: State must combat human trafficking

Posted on March 15, 2013


By Cindy McCain My Turn Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:00 PM

The recent unwillingness of Arizona House Judiciary Chairman Eddie Farnsworth to schedule a hearing for House Bill 2569 shines a direct and disturbing light on the problem of human trafficking in Arizona.

By refusing to schedule a hearing, he effectively killed a bill that was a small step but a step in the right direction of protecting our children from human trafficking.

HB 2569 would close the loophole for children who are victims of sexual predators, being bought for sex, who are 15, 16 and 17. Current Arizona law allows predators of children in this age group to be treated differently — less harshly — than those who sexually buy and abuse children under the age of 15. Essentially, the bill creates higher penalties for pimps and traffickers than for johns when the victim is 15, 16 or 17. This bill is relatively simple and straightforward and just the start of legislation needed to address the larger problem of human trafficking in Arizona.

According to the Polaris Project, which has rated all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 10 categories of laws that are critical to a basic legal framework that combats human trafficking, punishes traffickers and supports survivors, Arizona ranks in the third tier.

The third tier includes states that have made nominal efforts to pass laws to combat human trafficking and should take major steps to improve and implement their laws.

Only four states fall below Arizona, in the fourth tier. I am working with many others to help improve Arizona’s status with significant laws to combat human trafficking, thereby giving law-enforcement officers and our justice system the tools they need to safeguard all minors in Arizona, regardless of their age.

These are our children and grandchildren, our neighbors and members of our congregations, born and raised in Arizona. There is a truly sad misconception that this happens only to children from other countries — a devastatingly wrong assumption.

The average age of entry for a child sold into prostitution in Arizona is 14, according to Shared Hope International.

Phoenix is a major hub for this activity and is often listed as one of the top spots in the U.S. for child sex trafficking.

Sex traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and gullibility, as well as the market “demand” for young victims. Studies show pimps prey on victims as young as 12. Traffickers target their minor victims through chat lines, on the street, through friends, at malls and at schools.

Women and girls in sex-trafficking situations, especially U.S. citizens, are often misidentified as “willing” participants in the sex trade who make a free choice to be there.

This is wrong. Kids do not freely choose to have sex for money; they are overwhelmingly victims of coercion and violence.

Arizona is a major sports and entertainment hub, and trafficking activity increases during major sporting events. We have the opportunity, and I believe the moral obligation, to strengthen the state’s trafficking laws before January 2015, when the Super Bowl comes to Arizona.

According to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, “It’s (the Super Bowl) commonly known as the single largest human-trafficking incident in the United States.”

Sex trafficking exists partly because it is high profit and low risk. It is high time to make it a higher risk.

I have traveled around the world to learn and to better understand all of the complex issues surrounding human trafficking. I recently returned from a trip to Kolkata, India, where I saw the horrors of trafficking and the beauty of the dedicated volunteers working to make a difference. It’s time we made a difference in our own backyard, too.

Passing HB 2569 would have been a small first step, but it would have been a step in the right direction.

We owe it to our children and the children of the world to provide them better protection against human trafficking.

Cindy McCain, a humanitarian and business owner, is the wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain.