Letter: Trafficking bill vital, even in Vermont

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To the Editor:

Congratulations to Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan (D: Bennington-Rutland) and Rep. Susan Buckholz (D: Windsor 4-1) who co-sponsored H603 - "An Act Related to Human Trafficking" - that passed both the Vermont House and Senate unanimously and was just signed into law by Governor Scott. This legislation is an important step in safeguarding the most vulnerable in our state.

Residents might wonder why Vermont needs this kind of legislation. Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs in every state, including Vermont! Human traffickers use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will. Since 2007, there have been 222 calls from Vermont to a national hotline; and this doesn't count the calls that were made to the hotlines of other human trafficking programs. Vermont has specific vulnerabilities that make it ripe for human trafficking to occur, including the lack of training for professionals, an overwhelmed human services system, the belief that victims have consented to or made these choices (marriage, work, etc.), and the prevalent notion that "bad things don't happen in Vermont".

While human trafficking organizations work closely with service providers, law enforcement, and other professionals in Vermont to serve victims and survivors of trafficking, this legislation fills a gap hole in protecting victims. It extends the same protections to these victims that sexual assault victims now have: extending parental rights to mothers whose child/children were the result of a sexual assault or relationship with a sex trafficker. The law also removes the prohibition against granting an annulment to a human trafficking victim who lived "voluntarily" with her trafficker after a "marriage."

This new law is a valuable tool for Vermont's legal system as it investigates, defends, and safeguards modern days slaves and their offspring. Bravo to our smart and persistent Vermont State Representatives, Sullivan and Buckholz, who championed this important legislation and to those who supported it.

Rosalie Gross Fox,

Dorset

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