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April 26, 2012

Oklahoma human trafficking bill signed into law

A measure to better protect youth from human trafficking was signed into law earlier this week.  House Bill 2518, by Rep. Sally Kern and Sen. Josh Brecheen, strengthens Oklahoma’s human trafficking laws in the hopes of deterring the industry in the state.

“Many believe that human trafficking is something that only occurs in developing countries, but the United States is fertile ground for this inhumane industry,” said Kern, R-Oklahoma City.  “Oklahoma’s location along the I-40 and I-35 corridor makes it a prime location for trafficking people from Mexico and Texas port cities. Hopefully, this new law will make these monsters think twice before trying to prey on our state’s youth.”

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement say that human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country.  It is estimated that over 300,000 young girls in the U.S. are enslaved in human trafficking each year and that number is expected to increase in the future. 

“Oklahoma’s high rate of poverty, incarceration, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy and drug addiction makes it easy for traffickers to find vulnerable women and children in our state, but we need to strengthen our laws to protect these unsuspecting victims,” said Brecheen, R-Coalgate.  “The 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits slavery, and we must do all we can to prevent modern day slavery in our local communities, and this bill will help with that effort.”

HB 2518 modifies the definition of “human trafficking for commercial sex” to include the recruiting, enticing, harboring, maintaining, transporting, providing, purchasing or obtaining, by any means, a minor for purposes of engaging the minor in a commercial sex act.

“These victims could be your neighbor’s children or even your own children.  Oklahoma citizens need to be educated and informed that human trafficking is a very real and present danger in our state,” said Kern.  “With this new law, our state has taken an important step in protecting our state’s youth.  We want these predators to know that we will not tolerate this crime in our communities.”

Currently, under Oklahoma law if a minor consents to go along with a sex trafficking recruiter then that recruiter is provided some legal protection.  Under HB 2518, consent of a minor cannot be used as a defense in court.

Another major change is currently sex traffickers can only be penalized if they recruit through fraud, deception or coercion.  Under the new law, anyone found recruiting for sex trafficking, regardless of how they do it, will be penalized.

“Victims of sex trafficking come from big cities and small towns.  They come from affluent, middle class and low-income families and from many ethnic backgrounds,” said Brecheen.  “We need to educate ourselves, our children and our neighbors about the dangers of this growing epidemic and protect our communities.”

HB 2518 goes into effect November 1, 2012.

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