The movie “Lincoln” features the attempt to pass the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery during the Civil War. But though the “War Between the States” has concluded, the issue is far from being solved. This modern-day slavery, known as human trafficking, has expanded in America.
It’s not something that occurs far away in the Third World. It may even involve people from the Third World, but in some cases, they’re brought here because there’s a demand for their services. Cases involving the sex trade may get the headline, but one scholar estimates that 80 percent of the human trafficking cases are labor issues unrelated to prostitution.
At the Georgia Political Science Association in Savannah, Ga., LaGrange College students presented the findings from our research. They scanned the articles and books on the topic, gathered data, and tested a dozen hypotheses on the subject.
A strong factor that emerged is one of economic freedom. Paradoxically, states with a less burdensome government are actually more likely to pass laws to stop human trafficking. But just because a state provides economic freedom, that doesn’t mean that there’s complete anarchy in the state. Perhaps it means that businesses that benefit from legitimate employees are likely to accept laws that stop their competitors who are “cheating” by benefiting from slave labor.
A state’s wealth and minimum wage levels did not matter, but those with strong labor union membership were more likely to pass anti-human trafficking laws, perhaps because their workers would lose out to forced labor.
A state’s political composition, whether there’s gridlock, corruption or term limits don’t seem to affect human trafficking laws. Crime rates and incarceration rates didn’t seem to matter either for passing such anti-slavery laws, but surprisingly, murder rates did. Perhaps the public doesn’t follow all crime rates or number of people jailed, but murders make news. A public that hears more about murders is more likely to push for any anti-crime legislation.
A state’s “sex offender rate” (number of registered sex offenders per 100,000 residents) did not seem to have an impact on passing a modern-day 13th Amendment. But calls to a National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline connected to the Polaris Project were a strong factor. States which have residents willing to get off the sidelines are report cases of human trafficking that they witness are instrumental in passing state laws to stop this abuse.
Why do state laws matter? It used to be, like the 13th Amendment, we left fighting this international problem to the national government. Back in 1996, the Feds decided to take a strong stand against human trafficking, making an example of an Alaska operation involved in the sex trade. But thanks to a dearth of laws on the subject, the perpetrators could only face the lesser charge of visa violations.
Clearly, the national government laws aren’t always strong enough, and states have more law enforcement resources than the national government combined. State laws need to be strengthened, so we don’t continue to slide back to a “pre-1860 mindset,” and can do something about this cruel practice.
Garrett Bennett, Kadeshia Brown, Jalen Butler, Shelby Godfrey, Tara Harrison, Jake Hipple, Charity Knight, Jessica Nelson, Reece Powell, Oscar Prim, Phaelon Scott and William Shirley did the research for the column.