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Senate Adopts Spilka Amendment in Groundbreaking Human Trafficking Bill

July 1, 2011

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed legislation that cracks down on human trafficking in Massachusetts with strong criminal penalties for forced labor and sexual servitude, Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) announced. The bill also establishes important protections for victims of human trafficking.

“I am proud that my colleagues in the Senate were able to pass an anti-human trafficking bill,” said Spilka. “The Senate today also adopted my amendment which ensures that children who are victims of forced labor have access to the same help and services this bill provides to the sexually exploited. We will work to ensure that all children are protected under the final language.”

“We must protect victims, especially children, and prevent these kinds of heinous crimes from occurring in the Commonwealth,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “I want to thank Senator (Mark) Montigny for all his hard work on this bill, and the Attorney General as well. This legislation sends a strong message that Massachusetts is serious about preventing human trafficking, and that we will do everything in our power to stop these crimes.”

“To the advocates and survivors who have stood with me for six years, demanding the best anti-human trafficking law in the nation, I can only say, ‘thank you’,” said Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford), chief sponsor of the bill. “I truly believe this bill is going to save lives. Those who fail the test of humanity and partake in the exploitation of others are going to be punished with the most severe penalties we have at our disposal. To victims, past, present and future: you will not be forgotten and you will not be ignored, your fight is now truly our cause. I am grateful for the leadership of the Senate President and Attorney General for helping make this day a reality.”

“Today’s vote is another major step toward ending the exploitation of victims for sexual servitude and labor in our Commonwealth,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said. “We commend the Senate, especially Senate President Murray and Senator Montigny, for sending the message that this exploitation will not be tolerated. We are now just one of three states without a law against human trafficking, and we urge the Legislature to finish this important effort and send a final bill to the Governor’s desk.”

The Senate bill includes criminal sentences up to five years in prison for attempted trafficking, up to 20 years for trafficking adults, and up to life imprisonment for the trafficking of minors. Businesses involved in trafficking would face up to a $1 million fine for the first offense, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life for a second offense. These offenses also carry a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence.

The legislation also removes any statute of limitations for trafficking crimes and creates a 15-year criminal penalty for trafficking human organs.

The Senate bill updates sex offender registration laws to include human trafficking. This would require anyone convicted of the crime to register in Massachusetts as a sex offender and would require the Department of Correction and the Department of Youth Services to notify law enforcement of the release of convicted sex traffickers.

In an effort to further protect and help victims, the legislation takes several steps including the creation of a “Victims of Human Trafficking Trust Fund” which will be funded from fines and convicted human traffickers’ forfeited assets. The fund provides restitution and funding for victim services and related work done by law enforcement.

Additionally, items used in the commission of the crime (buildings, cars, boats, etc.) are subject to asset forfeiture. Half of the proceeds go to the Victims’ Fund. The other half is split between the police and either the Attorney General or the district attorney prosecuting the case.

The legislation also:

  •  Establishes an Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, comprised of state officials, law enforcement, victims’ services organizations and trafficking victims to investigate and study rates of human trafficking, prevention, and the treatment of victims;
  •  Increases the penalty for soliciting a prostitute, and increases the penalty for soliciting sex from a person under 18;
  •  Allows defendants who are victims of human trafficking and charged with prostitution to establish a defense of duress or coercion;
  • Establishes a “safe harbor provision” that allows the commonwealth, defendant or court to request a hearing for a child arrested for prostitution to instead receive protection services;
  • Requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to provide services to sexually exploited children and to immediately report to the district attorneys and the police any child the department believes to be a sexually exploited child;
  • Amends the mandated reporting law so that mandated reporters, such as doctors, social workers, teachers and probation officers, must report to DCF when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is sexually exploited;
  • Establishes a process for victims of trafficking to bring civil actions; and
  • Increases potential sentences for “Johns” to 2 ½ years in a house of correction and creates a mandatory $1,000 fine.

The legislation will now return to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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