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Human Trafficking is a major issue all over the world, happening not just in far flung nations, but happening here domestically. Although all people can be victims of this ugly epidemic, there needs to be more focus on how it affects the transgender community. The FBI, on a website devoted to human trafficking issues, actually mentioned the term “transgender”

Other young people are recruited into prostitution through forced abduction, pressure from parents, or through deceptive agreements between parents and traffickers. Once these children become involved in prostitution, they often are forced to travel far from their homes and, as a result, are isolated from their friends and family. Few children in this situation can develop new relationships with peers or adults other than the person victimizing them. The lifestyle of such youths revolves around violence, forced drug use, and constant threats.8

Among children and teens living on the streets in the United States, involvement in commercial sex activity is a problem of epidemic proportion. Many girls living on the street engage in formal prostitution, and some become entangled in nationwide organized crime networks where they are trafficked nationally. Criminal networks transport these children around the United States by a variety of means—cars, buses, vans, trucks, or planes—and often provide them counterfeit identification to use in the event of arrest. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14. It is not only the girls on the streets who are affected; boys and transgender youth enter into prostitution between the ages of 11 and 13 on average.9

Here in Pennsylvania, the latest piece of legislation to address human trafficking in general is SB75, put out by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, which at a whopping 63 pages, seeks to overhaul the way sex trafficking is handled here. And, a search of the terms “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” indicates that it is one of four bills (as of February 18, 2013) to be LGBT inclusive.

On pages 45-46 of the bill, language is added in to include personal characteristics that should be considered and recognized.

(b)  Personal characteristics to be considered.–In the
development of the State plan under this section, the council shall consider the following factors relevant to the human trafficking victim and the victim’s dependent children:

(1)  Age.

(2)  Gender.

(3)  Special needs.

(4)  Sexual orientation.

(5)  Gender identity.

(6)  Racial and ethnic background.

So, I guess we have some recognition of the special focus that needs to be put on LGBT survivors of human trafficking. However, a statement about shelters on page 54 of this bill contains a chilling omission.

(a)  Voluntary placement.–Residence of a human trafficking victim in a shelter or other facility shall be voluntary, and a human trafficking victim may decline to stay in a shelter orother facility.

(b)  Restrictions on admission.–Admission to a shelter:

(1)  shall be made without regard to race, religion,
ethnic background, sexual orientation, country of origin or culture

Note how there is no reference to gender identity in the part of the bill that actually puts teeth on regulations towards provision of services, rather, it is only a mention in terms of tracking statistics. And of course, a study by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute mentions an all too familiar problem with transgender people and shelters.

It is crucial that police and other law enforcement work with informed human trafficking and LGBTQ organizations to increase sensitivity and the possibility of victim identification. And we must provide services and housing specific to the needs of LGBTQ persons who are survivors of trafficking in persons. For example, as far as we know, none of the trafficking shelter beds available in New York City are available for trans-women.  The public dialogue is overwhelmingly dominated by discussions of “girls” leading us to believe that trafficking is a crime exclusively against under-age cisgender (one whose sex at birth matches her gender identity) women, resulting in a narrow focus by those most likely to be able to lend a helping hand.  Meeting the needs of trans-women will also require specific outreach campaigns.

This is just another example of ill-informed “bathroom panic” threatening gender self-determination and throwing transgender people who have been rescued from human trafficking out of the frying pan and into the fire, and yet another example of bills which otherwise further LGBT people doing it wrong in terms of the most vulnerable.

It appears that the bill was voted out of committee as of February 6, 2013, however, I will not support this bill until they add in gender identity inclusive language in terms of shelter admissions.

-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis