Shared Hope International compiled the research, which examines each state’s approach to preventing sex trafficking. Only ten states received a grade of C or higher.
No state received an A, and West Virginia is one of more than 25 states that got an F.
One of the report’s authors, Alicia Wilson, says it’s surprising so many states, got failing grades.
"The grade is not a reflection on legislators, on attorney generals, or anyone in the state particularly; it’s just more of a call to action to say, hey, these 26 states that failed, along with every other state since no one got an A, has room for improvement and needs to make that improvement," Wilson said.
The report states West Virginia doesn’t have stand-alone human or sex trafficking laws, which leaves those
crimes to be prosecuted under other criminal statutes.
Wilson says none of those statutes identify the victims as sex trafficking victims, which can prevent access to special protections and services.
"It’s problematic in being able to identify the traffickers, buyers and facilitators, and achieve the criminal prosecutions and penalties that can serve as a deterrent to those crimes," she said.
"Frequently, trafficking victims are treated as offenders of prostitution offenses, and without treating them as
a sex trafficking victim, by having a sex trafficking law that lays that out, that leaves gaps to where the victims will not receive services and the offenders will not be prosecuted as they should be."
Each state’s report card includes a list of recommendations from Shared Hope to achieve better grades and increase protection.
Wilson says there are multiple steps West Virginia can take.
"The biggest thing that West Virginia can do first is to enact a human trafficking law that includes a sex
trafficking, and I would encourage legislators in West Virginia to do that. And for individuals in West Virginia, who are interested, I would encourage them to reach out to their legislators and make them aware of this issue," she said.
Kanawha County Sen. Corey Palumbo chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He says trafficking is an issue he wants to follow more closely.
"You never like to see anyone grade our laws as failing, but you always need to sort of look behind that and assess it on your own. In the report, they indicated we have several things that sort of crack down on commercial sexual exploitation of children, but nothing specific that hones in on this sex trafficking act," Palumbo said.
Palumbo says he’s looking into the efficiency of the state’s statutes and also looking at what other states are doing.
He says he’s open to offering legislation in this upcoming regular legislative session.
"It’s definitely an issue that would be within the typical scope of the judiciary committee so I think it’s certainly appropriate for us to take a close look at it.
I would like to think we have plenty of time between now and the end of the session to assess it and come forward with some additional legislation if that’s what is deemed necessary," he said.
The legislative session begins in mid-January.