LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin’s Human Trafficking Summit is drawing in a crowd of more than 1,500 people this week in Little Rock.
Griffin started the summit by announcing the Strategic Tactical Operations Partnership (STOP) to combat human trafficking in Arkansas. Griffin said the effort will provide a structure for collaboration and cooperation among key law enforcement agencies so that we can better address the problem.
He told FOX 16 News he has been working with state police, FBI, US Marshal Service, nonprofit victim services organizations and legislators on the issue.
Before taking office, Griffin said he began working with legislators on strengthening Arkansas laws related to human trafficking.
A group of lawmakers spoke to the crowd Monday morning about some of the changes made in the last special session.
One of the law changes deals with the solicitation of a minor and adds them into the protections under the criminal statute prohibiting soliciting someone for illegal sexual conduct.
Griffin said that some language was also strengthened in other areas that hold people responsible when they know about human trafficking and fail to report it.
“The laws are never as they should be,” Griffin said. “We will always be looking for ways in the next legislative session to stay on top of the situation as it changes.”
He also noted that many law enforcement agencies in Arkansas do not have proper human trafficking training, which is another issue he is looking to address.
“If they don’t have human trafficking training, they may not know what they’re seeing,” Griffin said. “They may not know the signs.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Kristin Bryant, also spoke at the summit Monday and showed data from the Polaris Project from 2020, specifically pointing out its findings on Arkansas.
“They rated each state on how the state treats the survivors of human trafficking, so Arkansas we received a C,” she said. “There are obviously ways we can work on improving how we treat and how we help our survivors of sex trafficking.”
Bryant also discussed cases she has worked on and tactics they have discovered traffickers use for finding victims, especially underaged. She pointed to social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook as some methods, but also Craig’s List.
Bryant said when investigating cases, they are now not only looking at who is doing the trafficking, but who knew about it and did not report it.
“Yes, we do care about the traffickers, but we also care about the people who are trying to create this market,” she said.
In addition, she is looking at traffickers who are knowingly connecting with minors or had a reasonable way to know the person was under 18.
“I don’t care what the age of consent is in Arkansas, all I care about is my victim under the age of 18 or was it an adult that used fraud or coercion against that person,” Bryant said.
Griffin also told FOX 16 News that cracking down on human trafficking will also have an impact on making arrests for other crimes in Arkansas.
“You can’t categorize and segregate trafficking,” he said. “It is often criminal activity related to other criminal activity. If you find human trafficking, you’re going to find in many cases drug trafficking you’re going to find fentanyl and other illicit activities.”
The summit is set to continue into Tuesday at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.