The legislature has passed three provisions meant to help victims of sex trafficking and abuse.
The main provision of the bill would add advertising sex with trafficking victims to the state’s definition of the crime of trafficking. Trafficking is a felony punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or 10-years in prison or life, depending on the age of the victim.
It’s sponsored by Representative Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), who heard from some law enforcement that the change would help fight what is a major problem in Missouri.
“If you can find a way to go after the advertisers, a lot of times what we’ll see is there’s a doughnut hole where you can go after the trafficker, you can go after the john, but you have a hard time getting the third party that’s kind of mediating things,” said Haahr. “If you can go after them and break that hold, you have an opportunity just to really push them out of that state.”
Haahr chaired a task force on human trafficking, and says other proposed changes will come from its work.
Another provision in the bill would tighten controls of photos and videos of interviews with victims of child sex crimes. Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri Kids First says some of those had gotten into the wrong hands.
“Cases where students at a law school team got a copy of forensic interviews, we saw cases where forensic interviews were given to non-protective parents outside of court, we saw cases in some other parts of the country where forensic interviews were uploaded to YouTube,” said van Schenkhof. “We really believe that when we are asking children to share their stories of abuse so that we can protect them and hold offenders accountable, we need to do our part as a system, to protect that information.”
A third provision would allow sex trafficking victims to use a state program to keep their addresses confidential, to help them hide from their abductors.
The bill has been sent to Governor Nixon.