Commentary: Legislation Combats Sex Trafficking

Commentary: Legislation Combats Sex Trafficking

On July 1, legislation that I sponsored, HB1964, went into effect. This new law is Virginia’s first stand-alone human trafficking statute and creates stricter penalties for traffickers, greater protections for sex trafficking victims, and provides needed tools for prosecutors and law enforcement to stop human trafficking in Virginia.

At a recent forum on human trafficking at George Mason University, Det. Bill Woolf of the Fairfax County Police Department Human Trafficking Unit shared a bit of startling news. Woolf stated that without the passage of HB1964, only 11 of the 120 or so open cases dealing with human trafficking could be pursued. According to Woolf, because of this new law, almost all of these cases can now be pursued.

Until today, Virginia was the only state in the nation without a dedicated human trafficking law and was one of only two states that did not specifically criminalize sex trafficking. The enactment of this law marks another goal reached for Virginia’s many organizations and individuals engaged in stopping this abhorrent crime. Thanks to the efforts of many, the General Assembly has established laws to combat the scourge of sex trafficking in Virginia; as a result of these long-term efforts, Virginia finally has a strong sex trafficking law in place.

This new section of the Virginia Code establishes the new offense of sex trafficking, which provides substantial penalties, including a Class 3 felony when the victim is a minor — regardless of whether the child was forced, intimidated or coerced. This distinction reflects the disturbing reality of how traffickers prey on the vulnerability and trust of young victims and ensures greater protections for Virginia’s children. The new law also closes a gap in Virginia law by criminalizing the recruitment of minors and adults for commercial sex. Further, the law provides for the use of multijurisdictional grand juries and includes sex trafficking as a predicate crime under Virginia’s racketeering and criminal street gang statutes — ensuring that prosecutors and law enforcement can use these laws to combat criminal enterprises that engage in sex trafficking across jurisdictional lines.

I would like to thank the many people, elected officials, and community groups that had a hand in crafting this legislation; particularly, the Kids Are Not For Sale in VA Coalition and the Richmond Justice Initiative. The threat of sex trafficking is closer to home than many realize, and in the General Assembly we are committed to eradicating this crime against our young people. This stand alone statute will now send traffickers the message that they are not welcome here and that our kids are not for sale in Virginia. Not now, and not ever.

This will be the fourth piece of legislation in four years introduced by Hugo aimed at human trafficking. HB1898, introduced by Hugo in 2011, passed into law, making abduction for the purposes of child prostitution a felony. HB1606, which became law in 2013, increased the punishment for those soliciting minors for prostitution. Most recently in 2014, he passed HB485, which empowers law enforcement to better track down and arrest suspected traffickers.