Shared Hope International president Linda Smith says it's no surprise that the majority of states have backed significant anti-trafficking laws in the last eight years as the anti-trafficking movement has picked up steam. "Most people care deeply about what we're talking about. We're talking about children – we're not talking about an 'issue,'" she told CBN News.
Smith also credited the anti-trafficking movement for placing pressure on lawmakers to change laws that have historically provided safety for traffickers and buyers and penalized child trafficking victims.
"Most states were actually arresting the kids but there were not penalties for buyers," Smith said. "Now all states make it very clear that if you go to your ATM, you pull money out and you decide to go buy a child for sex there's a serious penalty now for you."
Shared Hope released its 2018 report card Thursday, the 8th such evaluation it's published since it began to monitor states in 2011.
The map has changed drastically since then. In 2011, 26 states failed Shared Hope's report card which evaluates laws on whether or not they criminalize child sex trafficking, penalize traffickers and protect victims.
For the last several years, no state has failed the report card and this year, Shared Hope gave 35 states A or B grades. Only four states received a D grade.
Shared Hope actually lauded South Dakota, a D grade state, for working with grassroots activists to provide for trafficking victims ages 15 and under. A new law protects them from criminalization.
Smith said that when children are put in jail for 72 hours as a criminal for being trafficked they're traumatized all over again. "They're cavity searched. They're put in clothes that are not so attractive and they're handcuffed and they're put behind bars with other criminals so they're violated again by the very system that's supposed to protect them," she said.
Since 2017, four states have improved their grades with new laws: Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Vermont.