Missouri House Boosts Bill to Expand Battle Against Human Trafficking
Local prosecutors would have additional tools to combat human trafficking in Missouri under legislation approved by the Missouri House of Representatives. Legislators endorsed a proposal sponsored by Representative Anne Zerr of St. Charles by a vote of 155-0. The bill would toughen current Missouri statutes criminalizing the trafficking of women and children for the purposes of sexual enslavement and exploitation.
The legislation broadens the definitions of human trafficking under Missouri law to include all aspects of involuntary servitude and sexual bondage. The proposal toughens criminal penalties for trafficking activities to be comparable to federal law. Finally, the bill contains new victim assistance and victim protection provisions in the areas of restitution and rehabilitation.
"Human traffickers destroy lives; they steal the future of women and children; they rob their victims of basic human dignity and freedom," says Representative Zerr. "This bill would provide law enforcement with stronger measures to protect women and children from being enslaved and exploited by immoral individuals."
"We've seen a growing number of trafficking cases in our state yet our laws have not been updated to enable public safety officers to vigorously deal with these heinous crimes," Zerr adds. "House Bill 214 will provide the legal framework to more effectively shut down human traffickers operating within our borders."
The current law on the books in Missouri, adopted by the General Assembly in 2004, regulates human trafficking for purposes of forced labor and "commercial sex acts," namely prostitution. The new proposal would also address the trafficking of women and children in sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs and massage parlors, and in the production of both "adult" and child pornography.
Missouri's current statutes address involuntary servitude and forced sexual "services" through violence and threats of physical harm. The new bill would also cover forced labor and sexual exploitation through psychological coercion such as fraud, deception, blackmail, or threatening to cause financial harm.
Criminal penalties for trafficking in forced labor, sexual exploitation of an adult, sexual trafficking of a child, and sexual trafficking of a child under twelve would all be stiffened. The potential punishment in terms of prison time and fines would be enhanced to match those of federal law. Many trafficking offenses in Missouri are prosecuted on the federal level because those sentenced face harsher potential punishment.
Representative Zerr's bill seeks to provide greater support to victims of trafficking. Individuals convicted of human trafficking would be required to pay restitution to the victim in an amount that not only
covers the value of the victim's labor, but also the costs for mental and physical rehabilitation of the victim and any child of the victim.
Victims of trafficking would also be authorized to pursue legal action against the
perpetrators of the crime to obtain actual and punitive damages. The Attorney General would also be empowered to seek civil penalties against human trafficking enterprises, with any money or property collected primarily dedicated to victim restitution.
The legislation encourages the Missouri Department of Public Safety to develop training programs and protocols for the identification and assistance of human trafficking victims. The training programs would be directed to state social service employees, juvenile courts, local police departments and county sheriff's departments, health care professionals, and administrators of shelters for runaway and homeless youth.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 1.2 million children are victims of commercial sex trafficking each year around the globe. It is believed that more than 700,000 women and children have been trafficked into the United States in the last decade.
Yet the problem of human trafficking in the United States is not just an international phenomenon. It is estimated that over 100,000 domestic children are victims of sex trafficking and prostitution in America each year. Many of these youth are runaway children, or youth who have already been victims of child abuse and neglect. Victims of forced labor are often immigrants who do not have legal status in the United States.
Missouri's geographic location in the center of the nation seems to make it a focal point for the
exchange and trafficking of individuals to and from different parts of the country. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas City has prosecuted more human trafficking crimes than any other U.S. Justice Department office in the country.
The profits from human trafficking worldwide are staggering. The International Labor Organization reports that the human trafficking business is a $32 billion industry worldwide. Groups who are on the front line battling the menace of sexual trafficking estimate that a trafficking enterprise or sexual predator can make more than $200,000 a year from the "services" of one woman or girl.
The legislation sponsored by Representative Zerr was developed by the Missouri Family Policy Council in collaboration with the Missouri Catholic Conference and the Attorney General's office. The bill now moves to the Senate where Senator Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon has introduced human trafficking legislation at our request. Senator John Lamping of Clayton has also filed similar legislation.
Please be praying that the Missouri Senate will move as resolutely as the House to strengthen Missouri's laws regulating the horrific crimes against human dignity committed by those who destroy the hearts and minds of women and children for their obscene profits and pleasure.