Modern Day Slavery: A look at Kansas' human trafficking laws

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A local advocate says Kansas' human trafficking laws need to better serve victims.

Human trafficking is an ongoing issue across the country and in Kansas. The need for help to escape trafficking rose by 24 percent nationwide in 2016.

Just four years ago, Governor Sam Brownback signed a stricter human trafficking law. The law placed harsher punishments on so called sex traffickers.  

"The state is trying to sort of lead the way," Sedgwick County District Attorney, Marc Bennett said.

Bennett sees those offenders all too often. He says the increase in the number of arrests and convictions can be contributed to more police training and greater public awareness.

That same law also did something else. It's supposed to make sure the people taken out of those horrible situations are treated as victims and not criminals.

"We don't want to see individuals locked up as a result of their history of sexual abuse and exploitation." said the director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University, Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm.

Countryman-Roswurm says the problem is that many of the victims often end up arrested and behind bars. Some of those victims are children or adolescents.

Data from Sedgwick County shows from 2013 to 2016, 59 girls, all minors, were taken from human trafficking situations and arrested and booked into the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Facility, a jail for minors. Data reveals nearly half of these children are already in the Department of Children and Families custody before they were booked into jail.

"They have a long history of trauma in their homes and then they have further trauma on the streets," Countryman-Roswurm said.

She says spending time in a cell is the last thing they need. Instead, she says the state should be providing access to services that help these children become self-sustainable.

Bennett agrees, but says it is not that easy. 

"Ideal is we have a place that's safe and therapeutic, and we can put them in there and keep them safe. But the reality is that doesn't exist," he said.

One place actually does exist and it's the Wichita Children's Home. It's the only other option in the state where judges can house human trafficked youth. It only has four beds for those kids.

"At the end of the day the judges have to follow the law and we have to try to do what's right to protect these people from the perils they find on the street," Bennett said.

On Thursday, State Attorney General, Derek Schmidt, proposed new legislation to once again strengthen human trafficking laws.  

The most significant change for the victims is a measure that allows them to erase their past convictions. The state hopes its incentive enough to turn their backs on their captors and a life of despair and slavery. 

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