Attorney General Martha Coakley is joining with lawmakers and police to push a bill to toughen criminal penalties against pimps and others profiting from human trafficking.
The bill creates the state crime of trafficking of individuals for sexual servitude, with a maximum penalty of 20 years in state prison. The bill also establishes a separate crime of trafficking persons for forced labor, to be punished by 15 years in prison.
The bill would impose higher penalties for those who exploit children under the age of 18 and allow judges to order those convicted of human trafficking to forfeit any funds to their victims.
“This is a public safety issue and it is a human rights issue,” Coakley said last week. “This bill sends the message that human trafficking is unacceptable.”
Coakley said that all too often in the past the focus has been on arresting the young people pressured into prostitution and not the individuals profiting from the sex trade.
She said human trafficking is the fastest growing type of criminal enterprise, in part because existing state penalties are relatively light and the young people pressed into prostitution, often teenage girls, can be forced to engage in sex for money repeatedly.
Coakley also said that the Internet has made it much easier for girls to be sold for sex with less risk of arrest.
Massachusetts is one of just five states without a human trafficking law. A human trafficking bill passed in the Senate last session, but died in the House.
Sen. Mark Montigny said he hopes the bill will have better luck in the new two-year legislative session. He said that while there are federal human trafficking laws, the state needs to adopt its own statutes to give local police and investigators the legal tools they need.
He said human trafficking doesn’t just involve sexual servitude, but can include the hiring of nannies in wealthier areas kept against their will and subject to abuse.
“It is absolutely, modern day slavery, nothing less,” said Montigny, D-New Bedford. “The folks that are doing this are the worst criminals.”
Audrey Porter worked for years in the commercial sex trade in Boston’s notorious Combat Zone before eventually finding a way out of a life of prostitution and abuse.
Porter, who now works as associate director of the advocacy My Life My Choice Project counseling young women, said the focus of law enforcement has to be on the demand side of sex trafficking.
“I keep thinking if it weren’t for the pimps and the johns, how easy it would be to get rid of this,” Porter said. “There’s nothing glamorous about children having to sell their bodies over and over again to these strange men.”
Coakley also announced last Thursday the creation of a human trafficking strike force within the Attorney General’s office to work with other state agencies to increase prosecutions, educate the public, and help train police and other law enforcement agencies.
Last Thursday’s bill filing follows an October hearing by Coakley’s office on public safety concerns about the role of websites in aiding human trafficking and the illegal sex trade.
An estimated 27 million people are trafficked internationally and domestically, bringing in $32 billion annually.
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