Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, is, in my mind, exactly what a state legislator should be.
I first became aware of Volk during the 2010 campaign cycle when she won her first election to the Maine House — because I saw her running. Literally running on a leg of Dean Scontras’ “running down the debt” tour of southern Maine.
I became pretty impressed back then, but watching her behavior once she actually became a legislator has been a real treat.
Volk has a deep and abiding ideology that informs her perspective on issues of public policy. Yet, rather than be ruled by that, she is also responsive to the citizens she represents and is one of the best “listeners” in the Maine House of Representatives.
She also has perspective, after having lived a life in what I like to fondly call “the real world.” A wife, mother and small business owner, she cares about her community because she lives in it for real.
Which is probably why when she read an article last summer that detailed Maine’s weak human trafficking laws, she had the impulse to try to do something about it.
According to a study by The Polaris Project, which is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting the proliferation of human trafficking, Maine ranks near the bottom of states in regards to laws relating to fighting it.
Volk — like any good legislator would — decided that this was a troubling fact and wanted to find out more information. So she contacted Polaris to ask for more specifics about what was wrong with Maine law and how it could be fixed.
One of the things they told her was that there was no real way of dealing with people who have been convicted of prostitution, among other petty crimes, while they were in the process of being trafficked.
“Human trafficking,” while technically a broad term that encompasses things like forced labor and organ extraction, is in reality a politically correct way of saying “sex slaves.”
It is a booming (and growing) industry, which generates roughly $32 billion every year in international trade.
You can think of traffickers as particularly vile pimps. They pray on mostly young, mostly poor, often desperate girls and introduce them to prostitution.
It almost never starts that way. Usually the people who recruit sex slaves offer the girls “legitimate” work or the idea of improving their circumstances via education. To gain trust, they will offer chances to work in a hospitality or service industry. Sometimes they are convinced that modeling contracts are coming.
Regardless of the hook these monsters use to capture young women, they threaten, intimidate and ultimately kidnap them and sell their bodies into prostitution. Unlike a traditional prostitute, though, these women do not work a corner or staff a brothel, free to otherwise live their lives. Instead they are often shipped overseas or kept captive, forced to do anything they are told to do.
Sadly, the girls themselves often bear the brunt of punishment, as they are only discovered after having been arrested for prostitution. On top of being sold as sex slaves, they are now convicted criminals themselves.
One of the things that can make things easier on the victims, and ultimately obtain more cooperation in the prosecution of real criminals, is a law that vacates the conviction of those who were convicted of a crime while in the process of being sold as sex slaves.
Having such a conviction on your record can make it virtually impossible to start your life over.
Volk wanted to do something about it. She researched the issue further and found that 14 states have already passed similar laws. She also found that Maine was, like virtually every other state in the union, seeing an increase of human trafficking activity.
And even if it wasn’t, that shouldn’t stop the laws of Maine from being there to prevent this problem from getting worse.
So she wrote a bill to address the issue for the upcoming legislative session. Unfortunately, on a party-line vote, and with seemingly partisan motivations, the Democratic-controlled 10-member Legislative Council voted, 6-4, not to consider her bill.
Since then, she has been attacked as a partisan by the highest echelons of the Maine Democratic Party. So craven was their action that even liberal stalwart Bill Nemitz called what the Democrats were doing “an example of politics at its worst.”
The council has a chance to make this right on Nov. 21. But don’t trust them to do the right thing on their own. Show your support for Volk’s bill by calling Speaker Mark Eves at 287-1300 and Senate President Justin Alfond at 287-1500.
Tell them this is common sense legislation. And while you’re at it, tell them to do their jobs instead of playing politics. Just like Volk was trying to do all along.