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SD Sex Trafficking Laws Ranked Worst

Polaris Project

A global organization that fights human trafficking says South Dakota’s laws are the worst in the nation. The Polaris Project works to bring awareness to modern-day slavery, aids lawmakers in creating proper regulations, and serves victims.

The Polaris Project’s 2013 ranking shows South Dakota as the only state labeled Tier 4. In the project’s description, that means South Dakota has "not made minimal efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking and should actively work to improve" laws, especially those that protect victims.

"Right now, South Dakota has a criminal law against both sex and labor  trafficking," Senior Policy Counsel at Polaris Project James Dold says. "I think some of the things it could work on is making sure that a stand-alone asset forfeiture law is in place, making sure that there’s victim assistance provisions, safe harbor, as was mentioned earlier in the call, so that sexually exploited children aren’t arrested for prostitution-related offenses."

Dold says Polaris representatives want to build relationships with South Dakota lawmakers to help influence new legislation. Human rights advocate Cindy McCain says many don’t realize the extent of human trafficking until they themselves encounter it. She says she was shopping in Calcutta years ago when she heard movement and could see children’s eyes staring up through the floorboards.

"The problem with this is that that I walked out of that shop, and I didn’t do anything, and it has haunted me ever since. That is one of the main reason that it’s brought me to this," McCain says. "At that time in my life, I did not understand what it was. I did not understand, not only the dangers that it presents, but really how rampant it is worldwide."

South Dakota's ranking says the state has "not made minimal efforts to enact a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking," according to Polaris Project.

Advocates say human trafficking isn’t always that obvious and that everyday people need to recognize the problem seeping into their communities.

Leaders of Polaris Project say federal law provides a basic framework for states to follow, but laws vary across the country. Now the Uniform Law Commission has developed a broad-sweeping guideline for lawmakers.

"Our uniform act has three distinct components," Commissioner Steve Wilborn says. "First, a penalty for trafficking, including forced labor and sexual servitude. Two, protections for victims with things such as safe harbors for minors and allowing victims to seek to vacate certain convictions. And three, promoting public awareness through state-coordinated activities."

Wilborn says lawmakers can use the uniform act to craft legislation in their own states.

South Dakota is the only state with the lowest possible ranking from Polaris Project. To view the full ranking release from Polaris Project, visit this link to a map and detailed assessment of the entire country.


Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).