Movement Seeks Better Trafficking Laws

Posted: December 16, 2010 in Regent IJM in the Community

By Elizabeth Heiss

December 16, 2010

Abolitionist William Wilberforce once said, “We can no longer plead ignorance … for [slavery] is now brought directly before our eyes.” Speaking at Regent University on Wednesday, Dec. 8, Michelle Rickert brought the realities of human trafficking laws before the eyes of a group of students, emphasizing the need for education and action to end human trafficking.

Rickert’s presentation was part of Human Rights Week sponsored by the Regent chapter of the International Justice Mission (IJM).

In her speech, Rickert attacked common myths associated with human trafficking. One common myth, she said, is that people believe if there are federal laws in the United States that there is no need for state laws. “We need strong laws. State laws are a resource,” she said. “State laws can fill gaps in federal law, lead to victim identification through awareness, encourage the training of law enforcement and catalyze community awareness.”

She also discussed current laws in Virginia and explained differences between state and federal human trafficking laws. Although forty-two states have human trafficking laws, Virginia does not. “What we do have is an abduction and kidnapping law,” she said, noting that previous attempts at introducing new laws have not been successful. “So we are proposing amendments to define human trafficking and define victims.”

Rickert also discussed the need for federal law and state law to agree on the same terms. Of particular concern is defining minors caught in sex trafficking as victims without having to prove “force, fraud or coercion.” This is important because predators sometimes lure teenagers into human trafficking with deceptive offers by posing as caring adults.

Rickert spoke on behalf of the Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI), an organization dedicated to eradicating modern-day slavery and promoting human rights for victims of exploitation and violent oppression. RJI works with survivors of human trafficking and raises awareness of these issues in communities where human trafficking exists. Rickert is working with RJI to support new human trafficking legislation in Virginia.

To combat human trafficking, RJI and other human rights organizations are forming new partnerships through the Virginia Coalition. The new level of cooperation will particularly aid coordination of aftercare programs for survivors in need of safe housing and training for employment.

Rescues occur, Rickert said, when everyday people recognize signs of illegal activity. “Most victims are scared. They don’t come forward. Look for them,” she said. Signs of human trafficking might include blackened windows on a building, a locked gate on a business that ordinarily wouldn’t need a locked gate, a child who never attends school or a nanny who never goes out. “Do not try to go in and deal with the problem.” Instead, anyone with a concern should call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 888.373.7888.

Rickert is an assistant professor of government at Liberty University, as well as the director for Liberty’s Center for Pre-Law Studies. She is a member of the Maryland State Bar and is currently working on her Masters of Laws through the University of London/Queen Mary School of Law in the United Kingdom.


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