Opinion: A survivor’s call to combat human trafficking and sexual violence in Maine

Opinion: A survivor’s call to combat human trafficking and sexual violence in Maine

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If you or someone you know needs resources of support related to sex trafficking, contact the Maine National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 for free 24/7 confidential services.

Tricia Grant, the executive director of Just Love, is a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking who now educates and mentors youth and adults about the reality of human trafficking and exploitation.

I’m a Mainer, a mother and a survivor of child sex trafficking. I’m also the executive director of Just Love Worldwide, an organization committed to ending exploitation and sex trafficking for good. My organization is one of several beacons advocating for those forced into trafficking; we educate and mentor the public about the harsh realities of human trafficking and exploitation.

Our efforts in Maine have recently strengthened. I and other advocates recognized that we cannot make progress and protect victims and survivors without change at the state level. My organization as well as others, including The Jensen Project, Rights4Girls, National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) and World Without Exploitation, sought to support legislative measures that protect survivors and those at risk.

It took time but nearly a year ago, under the leadership of the late Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, and with strong support from Gov. Janet Mills and a broad-based bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, our state became the first in the country to enact two laws specifically focused on helping prostituted people (the majority coerced into the sex trade) get out of that life, and combating the trafficking that sexually exploits vulnerable populations, including children.  

This groundbreaking milestone was through two pieces of legislation, An Act to Reduce Commercial Sexual Exploitation (LD 1435) and An Act to Provide Remedies for Survivors of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (LD 1436), which in tandem were designed after the Equality Model.

The Equality Model, which decriminalizes those sold in prostitution while holding buyers of sex accountable, serves as the cornerstone of this joint legislation. It not only decriminalizes prostituted people, but also emphasizes the provision of support and services to individuals looking to leave the sex trade. Moreover, it simplifies the sealing of prior prostitution charges and strives to educate all stakeholders involved in the ecosystem — buyers, youth, survivors and the community — about the link between paying for sex and sex trafficking. It realizes that to effectively help victims, we must not only prosecute those harming them, but provide mental, financial and social assistance so survivors can thrive.

Maine is not the first place to implement the Equality Model. A number of countries in Europe have implemented this approach and so has Canada. Whether in Maine or elsewhere, the Equality Model considers the full breadth of the sex trade ecosystem, from trafficking to transaction, and furnishes a unique, comprehensive way to protect prostituted people and their communities.

Through passage of these laws, we are creating more comprehensive protection for Mainers and increasing access to critical women’s health care while encouraging workforce development. But the work is not done — while passage of the bill was important, the crucial next step is effective implementation.

Enacting these laws and activating these policies isn’t like switching on a light. It takes time, partnership and the right mix of people. And we stand ready to assist. Some will be working in the field with law enforcement, taking corrective actions against buyers. Other work will come in the form of locating and securing funds for services to help survivors with mental health, recovery and reconnecting with their communities. And the work will also involve the legal community, sealing records and addressing past crimes to ensure that survivors, visible or not, can put the past behind them and simply live.  

My partners and I are here for the next step: to help implement the Equality Model and to build a better state and community for those who have escaped, those who are still looking for a safe way to exit the trade, and for those who may be next to be trafficked. We — policymakers, advocates, survivors — are ready to get to work to help some of the most vulnerable people in Maine.

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