By Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais
Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is one of the most hideous acts committed against young women and children. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today. While I am encouraged by the attention this issue is getting on the national stage, namely President Obama’s new Advisory Council on Child Trafficking (ACCT) to focus on preventing domestic child sex trafficking and treating survivors, our efforts in 2012 to curb human trafficking are significant. But I know more must be done in 2013.
In 2012, Governor O’Malley signed into law the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline Information - Sign Posting Requirements (House Bill 607/SB 352), requiring the State Highway Administration and a bus station and truck stop business owner to post a hotline information sign in restrooms. The bill establishes requirements for the sign and penalties for noncompliance. Additionally, the governor signed a bill (HB 860/SB 1082) that alters the definition of “sexual abuse” in Maryland’s criminal statute to include “human trafficking” in the provisions related to the reporting of a “child in need of assistance” and in provisions of law relating to the reporting and investigation of child abuse and neglect. Both bills received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly.
Looking forward, I expect the current legislative session will bring many new legislative proposals on human trafficking. On my agenda is the re-introduction of HB 391, Criminal Procedure—Seizure and Forfeiture—Property Used in Human Trafficking a bill that would remove the financial incentives from the human traffickers while providing the much-needed financial resources to help its victims and law enforcement (this bill will receive a new HB # in 2013). First and foremost, this bill would expand the crime of human trafficking to include those who “knowingly recruit, harbor, transport, provide, or obtain a human being for labor and services, and forcefully, fraudulently, or coercively subject that person to involuntary servitude or debt bondage.” By including labor trafficking in this definition, we are acknowledging the odious reality that human trafficking involves more than prostitution, and that its victims – mostly women and children – are modern versions of slaves or indentured servants.
Most importantly, my bill would remove the profit motive for these criminals by authorizing the seizure and forfeiture of the crime’s ill-gotten gains (a similar method is used in the seizure and forfeiture of property gained through the illegal distribution of drugs). The bill would establish due process procedures for seizure and forfeiture, delineate what type of property is subjected to its provisions, and provide that the seized and forfeited property be sold and the proceeds from the sale be used to against human trafficking criminals.
Finally, it would establish the Anti-Human Trafficking Fund. The property seized or forfeited from these criminals would be sold and the proceeds would be converted into revenue for this state fund. Direct aid would then be given from the fund to the victims of human trafficking and to law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies that target human trafficking. The whole purpose of seizure and forfeiture would be to assure that the financial benefits of human trafficking do not accrue to the trafficker, cutting him or her off from the financial incentives to commit further crimes. Breaking the cycle of enrichment and enabling of these criminals is important to eradicating this crime. One way to ensure success against human traffickers is by turning their profits against them and to provide financial assistance to its victims, law enforcement officials and others.
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws authorizing the seizure and forfeiture of assets in cases of human trafficking. Maryland no longer can watch as other states lead on this issue. In 2013, I promise my bill, Criminal Procedure—Seizure and Forfeiture—Property Used in Human Trafficking, will be on the agenda of the House Judiciary Committee and I look forward to having the support of MCASA, law enforcement and the advocacy community to turn Maryland into the 33rd
state authorizing the seizure and forfeiture of assets in cases of human trafficking.
Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais is the Vice Chair, House Judiciary Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. She is the past recipient of MCASA’s Public Policy Award and the national Visionary Voice Award from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Delegate Dumais is widely recognized as one of Maryland’s leaders in efforts to end sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. In addition to the human trafficking legislation she describes, she is the House sponsor of the bills described by Senators Raskin and Shank.
This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Frontline