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A group of experts on Friday recommended three steps Arkansas can take to address and prevent human trafficking in, an effort that a $1.5 million federal grant will support, the state Department of Human Services announced in a press release.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders created the working group with an executive order in February, and she will speak Monday at the start of a two-day Human Trafficking Summit organized by Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office. The meeting is being held at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
The gathering aims to “shed light on the global problem of human trafficking” and provide training to help combat it,” Griffin said in a press release.
The governor’s Feb. 14 order said state leaders should “develop an integrated approach” to preventing human trafficking and supporting victims.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 74 human trafficking cases involving 168 victims in Arkansas in 2021, according to the most recent available data.
The working group of Arkansans “with expertise or experience around human trafficking” included “law enforcement, state agencies, service providers, advocacy organizations, and federal partners,” according to the group’s Friday report.
One of the group’s responsibilities was to identify a “standardized screening tool” that state and private entities can use to identify victims of human trafficking and give them the help they need. Sanders’ executive order said Arkansas currently “lacks a consistent, uniform screening and identification process of human trafficking,” which has led to the crime being underreported.
The working group identified three potential tools that can each assess a victim’s situation in three ways: a quick assessment via targeted questions about the person’s experiences, an analysis of the person’s background and a private, confidential discussion with the person.
The group’s second recommendation is for the state to form a “Human Trafficking Coordinated Response Hub” to serve as “a singular point of contact to coordinate human trafficking responses among law enforcement, child protection services, service providers, and advocacy organizations.”
The “Hub” should collect data and issue an annual report on the services victims receive and any legal action against the perpetrators of human trafficking in order to evaluate the success of the effort, the working group wrote in the report.
Additionally, the working group compiled a list of local, state and national training and educational materials for “students, parents, counselors, and school personnel,” fulfilling the human trafficking prevention instruction requirement in the LEARNS Act, according to the report.
In the press release, DHS Secretary Kristi Putnam praised the working group’s “coordinated and integrated strategies,” saying they “take direct aim at this reprehensible crime.”
“It is my hope that these efforts will bring hope to the victims, bring protection to all of our children, and bring the evil perpetrators to justice,” Putnam said.
Helping victims recover from human trafficking requires a “continuum of care, not one person, not one agency,” said Louise Allison, executive director of Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH), a Little Rock-based advocacy group.
Allison said the working group’s recommendations were “a long time coming” and should successfully fulfill the needs for a screening process and a stronger support system for human trafficking victims.
“One size does not fit all in terms of survivors and what their needs are and what their personality is,” Allison said. “If we all work together, we can find the best care for every individual.”
To put the group’s recommendations into action, DHS and the Department of Public Safety recently received a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the Office for Victims of Crime within the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the press release.
DPS will use the money to provide law enforcement with training and tools to investigate human trafficking, and DHS will use the money for services that help victims, such as physical and mental healthcare, substance use disorder treatment, legal services and childcare.
The two departments will also use the grant, along with the Attorney General’s Office, to create the Arkansas Human Trafficking Council as a “collaborative effort” to identify forms of human trafficking, prosecute traffickers and aid victims, according to the press release.
Griffin will be the summit’s first speaker Monday morning, and several state lawmakers are scheduled to participate in a panel discussion about changes to Arkansas’ human trafficking laws that passed earlier this year.
One such law is Act 354, which allows victims to take civil action against anyone who was aware of, assisted or benefited from the trafficking. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, sponsored the law and will be on Monday’s panel.
Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. This article was published with permission from the Arkansas Advocate. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.