This week, the Alabama Senate passed Senate Bill 179, which establishes severe penalties for those found guilty of obstructing an investigation into child trafficking.

This legislation enhances the penalties already in place, increasing the offense to a Class A felony, with a minimum jail sentence of ten years. Under current law, the obstruction of an investigation into child trafficking is only a Class C felony – meaning conviction could result in merely one year in prison.

It’s a start, but it’s not enough

President Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States in 1863, but more people are subjected to slavery today, often through sex trafficking, than at any other point in human history. As Alabamians we must continue the work of the great emancipator and give sex traffickers, and those that would aid them, no refuge.

In no unequivocal terms, we have to do everything we can to protect people, and primarily children, from this horrendous practice. Human trafficking is already the second-largest criminal industry in the world today, second only to the illegal drug trade. However, it is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. It is only a matter of time until it becomes the largest. According to experts, more than 27 million people across the world are victims of sex trafficking.

This isn’t the faceless problem of a third-world country. Human trafficking cases are being reported in our backyard, in Montgomery County, Birmingham, Fort Payne, Madison County, Huntsville, Albertville, Guntersville, Dothan, and Mobile.

I commit to work to give law enforcement officers, investigators, and prosecutors every tool they need until this practice is dismantled. I encourage each of my colleagues to do the same. I challenge my fellow citizens to become educated, become advocates, and make your voice heard., a program of The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, is a good place to start.

It’s impossible and unconscionable for any of us to be unaware of the realities and impact of human trafficking. It’s on our doorstep and we as elected officials and citizens of this state must shine a light on this dark and evil practice. I’m proud of my colleagues for passing SB179. I urge my fellow legislators in the House of Representatives to do the same.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard