Wyoming is the only state without statutes that specifically address human trafficking.
Mary Ellison with the Polaris Project said this diminishes Wyoming’s ability to fight the crimes.
“We are seeing more cases being presented to local law enforcement officials and local prosecutors,” she said. “They need these additional tools.”
But Wyoming officials respond that the state’s system of referring cases to the federal level is working.
Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips said it makes more sense for the state to leverage the resources of the U.S. Attorney’s Office than to have local communities handle the few cases that come up.
“The federal penalties are extremely harsh for that type of awful behavior,” Phillips said. “Because we have so much cooperation among local, state and federal officials, we have as good as a system as any other state.”
Jim Anderson, an assistant U.S. attorney based out of Cheyenne, agrees. He said there are “sufficient tools” already in place to prosecute cases in Wyoming.
He added that Wyoming is unique because of its small population and geography. He said his office has dealt with only two sex-trafficking cases in the past five years.
“We just don’t have that type of activity that other states have,” Anderson said. “And when cases are brought to the attention of law enforcement, they are treated appropriately.”
He added that many trafficking cases occur with runaway teens who are coerced into prostitution. But Wyoming does not see as many of these runaway cases as other states, he said.
But some advocates say human trafficking is a bigger problem locally than most assume.
Daniel DeCecco, Wyoming’s volunteer advocacy leader for the International Justice Mission, said he has talked with several victims and researched reports in the state where the cases never make it to the prosecution level.
“It is an issue that usually stays under the radar, but having a state law could help that,” DeCecco said. “Because Wyoming is such a large and rural state, (trafficking cases) are something that can happen without getting a lot of attention.”