Lawmakers weigh human trafficking bill
By DAVE GRAM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | February 05,2010
MONTPELIER — A college student sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday and told lawmakers Vermont needs to do its part to "help end one of the worst atrocities in the world today."
Courtney Gabaree was speaking of human trafficking — the trade in enslaved people both for sex and labor — a world problem she argues does not bypass Vermont.
Gabaree, who formerly worked with women victims through a group called the Polaris Project in Washington and who will receive her degree this year in anthropology and sociology from Johnson State College, said a key aim of hers is to educate Vermont law enforcement and social workers on how to spot signs of human trafficking.
"They need to ask people 'Do they have their passports right now? Do they fear for their life? Do they think they will be hurt if they speak up?'" said Gabaree, whose business card describes her as "cofounder and modern-day abolitionist" with the Coalition of Vermonters Against Slavery Today.
Committee members said they had learned from Gabaree and from research that Vermont is one of just five states — and the only one in the Northeast — without a comprehensive law against human trafficking.
A law passed last year dealing with sex offenses against minors set new penalties for sexual exploitation of the young for commercial purposes. But that would not have helped a group of Asian women being held against their will at brothels in the Burlington suburbs of Essex and Williston in 2004, committee members said.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, and Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, said a concern of theirs is that because Vermont borders Canada, it could become a pipeline for people brought against their will from abroad into the United States and destined for the New York area.
"We need to establish a protocol now to ensure it does not get a foothold in Vermont," Campbell said.
Gabaree and committee members agreed that Vermont-born runaways also are at risk. They cited the case a decade ago of Christal Jones, a 16-year-old Burlington girl who fled a foster home, became caught up in what authorities called a prostitution ring and ended up dead in a Bronx, N.Y., apartment in 2001.
The bill being worked on by the committee would set up a study involving law enforcement, victims' advocates and others, to report recommendations by November for legislation. It also would set up a law enforcement advisory board, to develop police protocols for responding to trafficking cases.