Human trafficking has been gaining visibility over the past several years. Federal and state law enforcement have wrestled with how to track, charge, and convict offenders without bringing more harm to the victims. Now they will have new tools since the Michigan legislature has passed some of the toughest laws in the country to help stop the abuse.
Governor Snyder signed two of the 21 bills into law at the Women Strengthening Michigan forum here in Oakland County. In doing so, he said
“It is unacceptable that a dangerous and appalling practice like human trafficking continues to be a prevalent problem across our state and nation. I’m extremely proud to sign this comprehensive bipartisan bill package, making Michigan one of the leading states in fighting this tragic crime. This effort holds criminals accountable while giving victims the support they need to overcome these horrific experiences.”
The package of bills have a dual purpose: cracking down on traffickers while still protecting the victims.
Strengthening Punishments for Human Trafficking
Several of the new laws bump up the punishments for sex trafficking and human trafficking:
- Human trafficking is now punishable by life in prison (2014 PA 324).
- The punishment for soliciting a minor for prostitution was increased from a misdemeanor to a felony (2014 PA 326) and made a Tier I sex offense requiring registration for life (2014 PA 326).
- Kidnapping now includes restraining a minor for producing child pornography (2014 PA 330).
- Prostitution laws now apply evenly to both genders (2014 PA 331).
Those tools will help prosecutors to prevent human trafficking, particularly involving children.
Protecting the Victims of Human Trafficking
One of the big problems with sex trafficking is that the laws preventing prostitution end up criminalizing and punishing the victims along with their abusers. These new laws provide options to those victims:
- First time prostitution offenders who are the victims of human trafficking can get a deferred sentence to avoid a public criminal record. (2014 PA 334)
- People with five year old prostitution convictions resulting from human trafficking can petition to have those convictions set aside. (2014 PA 335)
- Trafficking victims within the foster care system can receive counseling. (2014 PA 339)
Creating the Human Trafficking Commission
In addition to criminal implications, this set of new laws will also create a commission to help the Michigan Attorney General deal with issues related to human trafficking. Partnering laws will require the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and Department of Human Services (DHS) to provide additional training and investigation around human trafficking issues.
Prostitution, sex crimes, and human trafficking are some of the most emotionally complicated areas of criminal law. This new set of laws will hopefully make it harder for abusers to take advantage of children and vulnerable adults, while at the same time protecting the victims of these acts within the criminal and foster care systems.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a criminal defense attorney for Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Southfield, Michigan. If you know someone who is facing charges related to human trafficking, contact Schmidt Law Services for a consultation today.