Human trafficking cases are increasing in frequency globally and New Mexico is no exception, seeing a 40 percent increase locally in just the past year.
Organizations around the state and Albuquerque metro area tasked with fighting human trafficking are working together along with law enforcement to help fight the epidemic, but a disconnect between the government’s efforts and aftercare for victims has created a lack of resources to see the necessary progress.
“We need to see level of sentencing for traffickers in New Mexico to go up…We also need to see more federal funds coming into the local level in order to get the necessary resources for law enforcement to really follow through these human trafficking cases… New Mexico funds for this have been so stunted.” said Shelley Repp, Executive Director of Spoken For, an Albuquerque based organization, who also works for the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force combating human trafficking.
New Mexico has seen a large increase human trafficking cases over the past few years that served as a call to action for Attorney General Hector Balderas and the Santa Fe based victim aftercare facility, Lifelink to convene more than 200 educators, human trafficking victims, and law enforcement agents at various trainings in Albuquerque and Santa Fe this past February. The mission of the trainings were to address potential ways to stop the cycle of forced sexual exploitation and to recognize when someone might be in the sex industry against their volition.
The state has seen an explosion in human trafficking reports each year after 70 cases were reported in 2014 to 90 in 2015, and 118 reports in 2016, a 40 percent increase over a two-year span. So far in 2017, 32 reports of human trafficking have already been made along with 118 tips called into the New Mexico National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The State Law NMSA-32-50-1 explicitly defines trafficking as, a person knowingly:
Recruiting, soliciting, enticing, transporting or obtaining by any means any other person without their consent, or with the knowledge that that person was forced or coerced into any labor. The law also includes provisions punishing the financial benefit from labor, services or sexual activity of any other person by force.
With New Mexico’s high trafficking activity, the primary goal of local groups is to grasp the root of the epidemic by uncovering trends and patterns of traffickers.
“One of the major factors weighing in on trafficking in New Mexico is having both interstates I-40 & I-25, which is a convenient way for traffickers to bring victims in and out of our state,” said Shelley Repp, Executive Director of Spoken For, an Albuquerque based organization, who also works for the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force combating human trafficking.
Repp noted that there is also a high increase for human trafficking in the state during the Balloon Fiesta, Gathering of Nations and the State Fair due to the large number of visitors traveling and passing through the state.
Repp says Spoken For is the only Albuquerque based organization combatting human trafficking by working with all levels of law enforcement, emergency housing, case management, food, clothing, and housing programs to aid in the process of rescue, aftercare, and advocacy for formerly trafficked individuals.
The Lifelink is a community action organization based in Santa Fe that has been grappling with Human Trafficking survivors and their post trafficking aftercare for the past 8 years. Lifelink has worked together with the office of the Attorney General in New Mexico to champion the establishment of a statewide hotline 505GETFREE, which was the first of it’s kind to make it possible for victims and informants to text message for help, rather than make a phone call.
Dr. Michael Debernardi, Clinical Director at The Lifelink says although legislation exists to punish perpetrators, “[but now] it’s really about increasing awareness, education…and increasing collaboration between law enforcement and clinical providers…and in terms of treatment, not much funding is being offered.”
In 2013, the state established the Crime Victim Reparation Commission (CVRC). In cases of emergency, Debernardi says the Lifelink can obtain funds to help new victims get back on their feet, this funding isn’t a long term solution and allocation of money for victims of human trafficking only accounts for 1% of the commission’s awards. Debernardi and his organization work to leverage state services like healthcare and housing, also with some funding from the state’s indigent fund. The Lifelink also prides itself on their management of a safe house, where victim-survivors can get back on their own feet in a comfortable, safe location.’
In New Mexico, the crime of Human Traffic is punishable by a third degree felony, unless the victim is under the age of 16, the crime is lowered by one degree and furthermore, if the victim is less than 13 years old, it becomes a first degree felony. This is important considering the average age for a girl to fall into a situation of human traffic is 12-14 years (dosomething.org).
At the trainings conducted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, Amanda Jaramillo, a legal assistant for Balderas highlighted different aspects to consider when conducting a post-trafficking interview with a victim in attempt to find resources and ultimately seek prosecution. They noted it is important to “not assume the victim is at fault..[and to] address gender issues.” Despite the heinous manner of forced sexual exploitation, victims are not legally required to file a police report if they do not want to.
The human trafficking industry is a blatant violation of human rights, often pushes victims into drug addiction and prostitution. The trade of humans earns over $150 billion worldwide each year, according to a report by the International Labour Organization. In developed countries and Europe particularly, an estimated $46 billion and with more than $50 billion earned from forced labor in Asia alone. Additionally an estimated $22 thousand is earned per victim in developed economies, with 21 million people subjected to forced labor worldwide.
Another obstacle facing the fight against human trafficking is the misrepresentation that victims tend to receive from news coverage. In a report by Julie Bindel titled, “Press for Change”, she details how the use of the terminology, “sex work” delegitimizes the violence committed against women during a situation of human traffic or forced prostitution. There do not exist many cases where women voluntarily enter the sex industry, but rather use prostitution as a means of survival.
At a national level, President Donald Trump is also pressing to end human trafficking as he vowed to end the epidemic during his administration by ordering Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to examine the resources they’re planning to use.