Human trafficking: Looking out for the victims
On Jan. 7, we received a news release from the office of Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, that she was circulating a bill designed to protect victims of human trafficking.
At the time, I questioned whether a bill like this really should be a top legislative priority. How prevalent is human traffic in Wisconsin anyway?
Two days later, I changed my mind.
That's when police raided a home on the Janesville's south side where they believe a Walworth County 16-year-old had been forced into prostitution, according to a Janesville Police Department news release.
Patrick Cooper, 27, and Erica White, 26, were arrested and face charges of soliciting a child for prostitution, a felony.
Cooper also is charged with one count of possession of child pornography and is due in court Tuesday.
The teen told police she had been kicked out of her house and met White at a party, according to court documents.
White offered to let the teen stay at their house, but it wasn't long before police say the teen felt threatened by the couple and was forced to have sex with various men, often up to four times a day at the house.
The teen eventually made it out of the house and authorities were notified.
Cooper is alleged to be the organizer, and police say White and at least one other woman worked as prostitutes.
Loudenbeck's bill would reform current law in an attempt to prevent further harm to victims of human trafficking.
Authored with the help of Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, the bill moves to protect victims and improve procedures for law enforcement and prosecutors.
"This bill addresses many specific concerns raised by victim advocacy groups, including strong provisions related to asset forfeiture, and a legal option for a victim of human trafficking to request that a prostitution conviction be vacated or expunged," Loudenbeck was quoted as saying in her news release.
Key changes to current law contained in the bill include:
-- Providing a unified process to incorporate the forfeiture of property into a human trafficking case
-- Expanding the definition of "commercial sex act"
-- Eliminating nonconsent as part of the definition of "trafficking"
-- Limiting the ability to prosecute minors engaged in prostitution
-- Allowing a victim of human trafficking to have a prostitution conviction vacated or expunged
-- Adding "intimate parts" to the crime of exposing genitals or pubic area to a child
-- Giving victims of the crime greater rights to confidentiality
-- Adding "stalking" to the list of crimes resulting in imposition of the domestic abuse surcharge
-- Allowing evidence of any similar acts by the accused to be admitted in court for pending trafficking and child sex crimes
As technology makes it easier for those engaged in human trafficking to exploit their victims while staying out of public view, law enforcement and the courts need up-to-date tools to not only prevent these crimes but help victims, as well.
A variety of resources are available for victims.
-- Rock County: Contact the Sexual Assault Recovery Program crisis line at (866) 666-4576
-- Walworth County: Association for the Prevention of Family Violence crisis line at (262) 723-4653
-- Winnebago County: Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling Inc. crisis line at (815) 636-9811
Dan Plutchak is the editor of CSI Media, publisher of the Janesville Messenger, Walworth County Sunday and the Stateline News. Contact him at email@example.com, on http://Facebook.com/DanPlutchak or on http://Twitter/danplutchak