RJI Policy FAQ
Q. What is RJI’s involvement in the Virginia legislature?
A. RJI has advocated in Virginia’s legislature since 2011 for strong anti-human trafficking legislation, passing a total of 16 pieces of legislation. Read our Legislative History here.
Q. What policies are needed in a state to address human trafficking?
A. RJI believes in a comprehensive approach that addresses the crime of human trafficking at all levels. Therefore, RJI pursues policies that prosecute the perpetrator, end the demand, rehabilitate the victim, and prevent trafficking in the first place. To see a breakdown of the legislation, click here. As we develop our Advocacy Strategic Plan and set our long-term public policy goals, we will continually be pursuing these policies that comprehensively address trafficking.
Q. How effective has the anti-trafficking legislation been that RJI has helped to pass?
A. In 2010, Polaris, a national anti-human trafficking organization, rated Virginia a red state, meaning that Virginia lacked sufficient laws to address trafficking. In 2013, after three years of RJI’s advocacy work, Virginia was rated a green state! However, there is more work to be done. Virginia only satisfied the minimum 7 of the 12 categories needed to become a green state. Read more about our state rating here. In 2015, we are pursuing research to study the effectiveness and implementation of the human trafficking legislation we have worked on in Virginia.
Q. What is safe harbor, and what is RJI’s position on it?
A. Safe harbor legally protects minors for being punished for the offense they were forced to commit by a trafficker and instead direct them to services for rehabilitation. RJI supports the concept of safe harbor and the need to protect minors legally and provide them proper services. In order to make this legislation effective, RJI believes comprehensive training of law enforcement and more shelters for human trafficking victims need to be in place in Virginia first. Law enforcement need to be properly trained to know how to identify a human trafficking victim, and there needs to be shelters for the victim to go to in order for this kind of legislation to work. Furthermore, safe harbor removes the role of law enforcement, which plays a vital role in prosecuting the trafficker. The protection and provision of services of minors is a crucial part of RJI’s strategic plan for future anti-trafficking legislation in Virginia.
Q. What is affirmative defense, and what is RJI’s position on it?
A. Affirmative defense is the ability for a human trafficking victim to defend themselves when charged with prostitution by proving that they were trafficked and did not enter into prostitution willingly. RJI is in support of the need to protect victims from criminal charges, however there are unintended consequences to this particular policy. Affirmative defense is sometimes a disincentive to law enforcement to enforce prostitution laws, which then leads to the lack of identification of victims. It also allows anyone to claim that they were a victim of trafficking when charged with prostitution. Furthermore, affirmative defense can benefit the pimp, because he wants his victim to be let go and continue working. RJI is committed to working towards alternatives that provide victims the legal protection they need, without the unintended consequences.
Q. RJI is advocating for a sex trafficking stand-alone statute this legislative session. Are there any plans to pursue a stand-alone statute for victims of forced labor as well?
A. Yes. RJI is in full support of protecting victims of forced labor as well as sex trafficking. As RJI develops its Advocacy Strategic Plan, it will include our plan to introduce legislation for forced labor. As advocates, we believe it is also our job to educate legislators on forced labor trafficking. After numerous conversations concerning the 2015 legislative session, it was evident that the timing was right for a sex trafficking stand-alone statute, and that the legislators were passionate about this issue.
Q. How does RJI determine whether or not to introduce or support a piece of legislation?
A. RJI looks for support from bipartisan legislators as well as the stakeholders who would be affected by the legislation, such as victims, victim services, law enforcement, and Commonwealth Attorneys. Finally, we look for any unintended consequences within the legislation.
Q. I am interested in introducing human trafficking legislation in Virginia and would like RJI’s help. How do I go about working with RJI on legislation?
A. We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Please know the earlier you contact us with a request, the more likely we will be able to pursue it. Policy ideas take time to research and develop. We will be able to pursue requests more that are submitted in the summer, versus those submitted in the fall/winter.
Q. How can I help?
A. RJI relies on advocates like you to help us in General Assembly! The Kids Are Not for Sale Coalition conducted a social media lobby day on January 21 to coincide with a press conference at the Virginia legislature. Over 250 people participated on social media, asking their legislators to support HB 1964 / SB 1188 and letting them know that our kids are not for sale in Virginia.
Interested in advocating for the sex trafficking bill in person, too? We are looking for advocates who are willing to come to the General Assembly building in Richmond with only a few days notice to stand in support of the bill when it is heard in committee! If you are interested in advocating for the bill in person and are able to be “on call”, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “On Call Advocate,” and we will add you to our “on call” advocates list.
Interested in learning more about the bill? Read the talking points here.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, we are happy to talk with you. Please email us at email@example.com.