“We’ve got to be careful in Oklahoma … of anything we make an 85 percent crime because of our incarceration rates,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Bureau of Narcotics. “But I think with human trafficking, if you’ve got someone who’s convicted of trafficking, then I think that person needs to be on that list.”
Other bills supported by the bureau would change the term child to minor and make the crime of child prostitution applicable to anyone under age 18, instead of 16.
Oklahoma’s problem with human trafficking stems partly from its location at the crossing of several major interstates, but how often the crime occurs is hard to quantify, Weaver said.
There is little or no data on human trafficking because it’s not a crime easily tracked and is severely underreported because victims fear retaliation, Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said.
The bureau is trying to attack human trafficking before it worsens in Oklahoma and has looked toward Nevada, especially Las Vegas, for models of legislation and operations.
“Most of these laws are mirrored after what Las Vegas has learned after years of experience,” Woodward said. While the problem in Oklahoma is less extreme, “if our laws are not prepared to deal with it, then we’re really wasting our time and doing a disservice to the victims.”
The Bureau of Narcotics has conducted about six sting operations and transferred from eight to 10 victims to shelters since the creation of its human trafficking unit in late 2012, Woodward said.
The Polaris Project, which advocates against trafficking around the world, said it has identified about 12,000 human-trafficking victims in the United States. Polaris credits Oklahoma as one of 32 states that have passed significant laws to combat trafficking.
From January to June last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center recorded 155 Oklahoma callers to its human trafficking hotline. Of those, 28 were determined to be actual cases of human trafficking.