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Legislature Cracks Down on Human Trafficking

November 15, 2011

Today, the legislature approved a bill aimed at cracking 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.

“As one of the first and ardent supporters of this legislation, I am proud that we have passed this long overdue anti-human trafficking bill,” said Spilka. “This comprehensive piece of legislation includes 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. This bill is an important step in protecting children across the Commonwealth.”

The 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 bill updates sex offender registration laws to include human trafficking, requiring 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 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 or who are victims of forced labor;
  • 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 or who are victims of forced labor;
  • 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 bill now goes to Governor Deval Patrick for his signature.

 

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