Legislative Update: Human Trafficking Gaining Attention Among Legislators

By Jodi Emerson

Director of Public Policy and Community Relations

2017 has been a busy anti-trafficking legislative year! We are thrilled with the attention that human trafficking is getting from elected officials at both the state and national level.

Fierce Freedom is not a lobbying group but we do advocate for stronger laws to fight human trafficking. This advocacy work is not a large part of what we do but it is an important part. There are not many groups out there fighting on behalf of the voiceless and we take this job very seriously. When we look at proposed legislation we keep two things in mind: first, whether the law will help or harm victims of trafficking, and second, whether the law will hold accountable those who are willing to buy and sell others.

We gave you an update on both Federal and State legislation in August (please see our website to review that article), so we will not cover the details of the bills proposed at that time. However, we will give you an update on their status.

Federal Legislation:

The two bills we have been following are the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficker Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). These bills were originally written to close the loopholes in Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act that prevented victims of trafficking from suing websites that profited from their exploitation. Recently, FOSTA has been amended at the urging of tech companies and this bill no longer has our support. We are still behind SESTA and urge Congress to pass this bill.

Wisconsin Legislation:

On December 8th Governor Walker signed 3 bills into law that help fight the demand for human trafficking. The first bill, SB 300, makes it a crime to ask a minor for an “intimate representation” (such as an intimate photo). Under previous law, it was only a crime once someone had possession of that photo. The second bill, SB 308, makes it a felony for the third offense of patronizing a prostitute (the first two offenses are misdemeanors). It is currently a misdemeanor to patronize a prostitute no matter how many previous offenses. The third bill, SB 396, gives law enforcement an additional option for charging adults who buy sex from minors called “patronizing a child,” which is a felony.

Several other bills have been introduced. The first, AB 540/SB 444, would mandate that technical colleges add information about human trafficking into truck driver training curriculum. We were pleased to be able to testify in favor of that bill this fall. The second bill, AB 634/SB 541, has been introduced which would enable law enforcement to serve hotels with administrative subpoenas in the case of suspected human trafficking. These types of subpoenas are already used for tech companies and other entities but this bill would expand the list to hotels as well.

The third bill is one that we are eager to see passed. AB 186/ SB 344 has unanimously passed the Assembly Committee but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing in the Senate. This bill would make it so that people under the age of 18 cannot be charged with prostitution. If you recall, last year we passed a law that made prostitution of children child abuse. Under our current law, children can still be charged with a crime for the abuse that is happening to them. This bill closes that loophole and treats victims of child sex trafficking as victims. Please contact your state senators and assembly people and ask them to help get this bill passed.

2017 has been a busy year and we are looking forward to a productive 2018 as well!

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