Modern-Day Abolitionist

Senator Amy Volk works to protect victims of sex trafficking in Maine

Four years after successfully proposing legislation to better protect victims of sex trafficking in Maine, Sen.  Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, is fine-tuning a few related proposed bills.

“This is modern-day slavery,” Volk says. “Sex trafficking certainly looks different in the United States than it does in, say, India or Thailand, where many times families will sell the girls and maybe choose to believe their daughters are going to a better life. A commercial sex act (here) could be as simple as a trade off for a place to sleep or for their next fix. Or it could be as dramatic as this person controls every move you make.”

Through the group Survivors Speak, Volk has met Maine women who have been sex trafficked, including middle-aged women who were trafficked as teens. Some more recent victims are the ages of her own three daughters, the youngest of whom is 13.

“It’s just unimaginable,” Volk says.

Volk has long been aware of sex trafficking around the world. Her church, The Rock Church in Scarborough, regularly raises money and awareness for Love146, a nonprofit that fights against child trafficking and exploitation.

Four years ago, she was reading news that referenced the Shared Hope International scorecard on preventing sex trafficking and bringing justice to victims. Seeing that Maine ranked poorly, Volk—who was then serving in the House of Representatives—made phone calls to see how she could make a difference.

Her first attempt at legislation in this area was rejected along party lines in 2014 because some legislators weren’t aware that sex trafficking exists in Maine. But that rejection sparked conversations and awareness statewide, which led to training for law enforcement, truckers and hotel workers. And a month later, when the bill finally made it through the process, it passed unanimously.

Because of the legislation she put forward in 2014, a person accused of prostitution in Maine may not be charged if she (or he) was actually a victim of sex trafficking.

“If you were a victim and were basically forced to commit a crime, should you be punished for that crime?” Volk asks. “And for how long? This is about enabling people to move beyond. You’re so much more than the worst mistake you’ve ever made.”

Volk plans to propose two related pieces of legislation this winter: one that addresses labor trafficking (which includes people who are forced to work in homes as domestic servants or farmworkers coerced through violence) and one that would make it possible for someone who has been convicted of a non-violent crime to request that the conviction be dropped from the public record four to seven years after the crime (depending on the severity), one time only.

“If you were a drug addict when you were 21, and you’ve been clean for eight years, I don’t think that needs to be on your record forever,” Volk says. “I think people make lots of mistakes when they’re young that they shouldn’t have to pay for for the rest of their lives.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough.

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