A human trafficking bill that toughens the penalty for sex traffickers and improves outcomes for victims has cleared another hurdle.
The Ramsey Subcommittee of the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee pushed HB 200 forward for further consideration Thursday, after a lively hearing on the measure the day before. The bill’s sponsor House Whip Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta) opened the brief meeting – a follow up to yesterday’s considerably longer one – by highlighting some slight wording changes sub-committee members had suggested.
“I think we took a good bill and made it even better,” Rep. Lindsey told sub-committee members, of the measure that includes charging those who traffic children under the age of 16 with aggravated felony.
With little discussion, the subcommittee unanimously approved the motion raised by House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-DeKalb) to push it through for consideration by the full committee.
“I support the bill,” says Rep. Abrams. “I think some more changes need to be made in committee, but overall I think it’s a strong bill that addresses a very important issue in Georgia. I look forward to watching it move forward and pass quickly.”
Majority Caucus Vice-Chair Matt Ramsey (R- Peachtree City) agrees.
“It’s a good bill; one that gets to the heart of one of the truly aberrant practices in our society,” he says. “I expect it to move through quickly.”
Rep. Lindsey’s bill builds upon the foundation established by a failed measure introduced last year by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), which pushed for children 16 and under to be treated as victims and not criminals in prostitution cases. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens had members of his staff work with Rep. Lindsey to strengthen the legal framework for the new measure, in hopes that it would avoid a similar fate.
“It puts more arrows into the quiver in terms of helping prosecutors prosecute those who engage in human trafficking,” says Rep. Lindsey. “It enhances the penalties in general and even more so for those involved in this reprehensible practice and even more so if the victims are underage. This also cracks down hard on the pimps and Johns.”
Key provisions in HB 200:
- Provides an expanded definition of “coercion” in the human trafficking statute, to include causing or threatening financial harm.
- Prohibits defense by blood relation – such as parents exploiting their children – or by marriage – such as a husband “selling” his wife.
- Significantly beefs up penalties for human traffickers who target minors. If the victim is at least 16 but less than 18 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 5-20 years in prison and a fine of $2,500 to $10,000. If the victim is under 16 years old, the crime is a felony and punishable by 10-30 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
- Treats those in sexual servitude as victims, not criminals, by offering them recovery under the state crime victims fund .
- Provides an affirmative defense for victims when coming forward to the sexual crimes of prostitution, sodomy, solicitation of sodomy and masturbation for hire if the defendant was being trafficked for sexual servitude.
- Allows the state to seize any real or personal property that a trafficker used for, or bought with the proceeds of the crime.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to receive training on how to relate to human trafficking victims.
Rep. Lindsey says he’s optimistic that HB 200 will pass.
“This is a big step,” he says. “It won’t bring an end to human trafficking, but it reflects a beginning for our attack on this issue in the state of Georgia.”
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.