Alabama's laws regarding the sex trafficking of minors rank sixth in the nation, according to a national report card released this week by the nonprofit Shared Hope International.
Alabama was one of 15 states to receive an A on the Protected Innocence Challenge, an annual comprehensive study of state laws on child sex trafficking.
Alabama received a 66 on the first Protected Innocence Challenge report card released in 2011. The score has improved to 94.5, making Alabama one of 12 states to improve by three grade levels since the initial report.
Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a press release welcoming the news, emphasizing that he has made ending human trafficking a priority.
“We’ve made progress in large part because of the efforts of organizations like the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, law enforcement officials, and legislators who have made strong commitments to protecting our children from this evil activity. Our laws have been strengthened to not only hold criminals who perpetrate these horrendous crimes accountable, but also to provide protection for their victims," Marshall said.
In 2011, Alabama statutes made trafficking for sexual servitude a crime but also required proof of coercion or deception. That proof is no longer required.
In 2011, the state's laws regarding the sexual exploitation of children did not include the crime of buying sex with a minor. State law now distinguishes between soliciting sex from a minor versus an adult.
Alabama law prohibits the criminalization of sexually exploited children for prostitution offenses.
The 2019 report notes that Alabama has not enacted a racketeering or gang crimes law that could be used to prosecute sex trafficking enterprises.
In addition to enacting a racketeering statute, the report recommends amending a portion of the state code to protect all minors from criminalization for prostitution offenses without requiring the child be legally identified as sexually exploited, requiring specialized services for juvenile sex trafficking victims and providing exceptions to factors that would make some victims ineligible for crime victims' compensation.
More than 200 cases of sex or labor trafficking have been reported in Alabama since 2015, according to an article in the Montgomery Advertiser in February. Christian Lim, a researcher at the University of Alabama who studies human trafficking, estimated told the paper that a 2018 study conducted by UA researchers found an estimated 908 potential survivors of human trafficking in 2017 alone, of which almost 60 percent were children.
According to the Share Hope International website, victims of sex trafficking include boys and girls who are bought and sold for profit. Social networks are the most common way that traffickers find victims. The most common age that a child enters sex trafficking is 14 to 16.
In August, 49 arrests were made in the Birmingham metro area in the FBI's nationwide sex trafficking sting dubbed Operation Independence Day.
Interstate 20 has earned the nickname "sex trafficking super highway."
Alabama has a Human Trafficking Task Force that meets once a quarter at the Alabama State House. The next meeting is Feb. 21 at 1:30 p.m.