Proposal to Battle Human Trafficking Nears Final Passage
Legislation to toughen Missouri's laws against human trafficking is on the doorstep of final passsage by the Missouri General Assembly. The Missouri Senate has unanimously approved a House bill sponsored by Representative Anne Zerr of St. Charles which strengthens state statutes dealing with forced labor and sexual bondage.
Zerr's legislation, House Bill 214, must now return to the House for one more procedural vote before being sent on to Governor Jay Nixon for his anticipated signature. The House had previously adopted the human trafficking measure by a vote of 155-0.
The human trafficking bill was steered to passage in the Senate by Senator Jack Goodman of Mt. Vernon, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Goodman had sponsored an identical bill in the Senate, as did Senator John Lamping of Clayton. All three bills were developed by the Missouri Family Policy Council working in tandem with the Missouri Catholic Conference and the Missouri Attorney General's office.
The proposal now endorsed by both chambers would provide stronger tools to prosecute the sexual trafficking of women and children. The definition of human trafficking is broadened to include forced sexual exploitation in the production of pornography and through the sexual performances
occurring at sexually oriented businesses. The scope of Missouri's current human trafficking law is primarily confined to instances of prostitution.
Missouri's present law prohibits involuntary servitude and sexual bondage through physical force or threats to cause physical harm. The proposed new law would expand the definition of human trafficking offenses to include acts of psychological coercion such as fraud, deception, blackmail, or threats to cause financial harm.
Penalties for the crimes of forced labor, sexual exploitation, sexual trafficking of a child, and sexual trafficking of a child under the age of twelve, are all enhanced to match those contained in federal law. Legal observers have commented that federal charges are pursued in most sexual trafficking cases in Missouri because the potential penalties are often greater than those contained in Missouri law.
The legislation endorsed by the General Assembly includes important new victim assistance and victim protection provisions. Those convicted of the crime of sexual trafficking would be required to pay restitution to the victim to compensate for their forced labor and for any mental and physical rehabilitation costs. Victims of trafficking would be able to pursue civil action against their perpetrators, seeking both actual and punitive damages. The Attorney General would be empowered to seek civil penalties against human trafficking enterprises, with the proceeds dedicated to victim restitution.
The proposal is designed to assist prosecution of complex human trafficking networks involving numerous parties engaged in both intrastate and interstate commerce. The crime of human trafficking is widened to include not only those who enslave or secure human trafficking victims, but also those who benefit financially in any way from participation in such activities.
Numerous human trafficking rings concentrate on luring women from other countries with false promises of opportunity and employment in the United States. However, domestic trafficking of American girls is increasingly described as a problem of epidemic proportions. Many of the victims are teens who are runaways or prior victims of abuse or neglect. Others are young girls who have been lured by sexual predators who falsify their identities and entrap the girls through bogus modeling proposals or contrived romantic relationships.
Missouri's central geographic location has made it a convenient exchange point for human trafficking operations moving women and children across the nation. The U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas City has prosecuted more human trafficking cases in Missouri and Kansas than any other Justice Department office in the country.
We are most grateful to Representative Zerr and Senators Goodman and Lamping for their conscientious leadership in tackling this abominable problem which reflects the increasingly depraved culture in which we live. Please be in prayer and consider how you can support the many ministries and organizations around our state working to rescue trafficking victims, help them reclaim their lives, and introduce them to their ultimate Protector, our Lord Jesus Christ.