Bill to fight human trafficking introduced in Delaware

New legislation aimed at fighting human trafficking has been introduced in the Delaware General Assembly. The bill, introduced last week, is designed to enhance criminal penalties for those who engage in human trafficking and provide greater protections for victims of human trafficking.

Senate Bill 197 was crafted by Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia M. Blevins (D-Elsmere) and Rep. Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), in cooperation with Attorney General Beau Biden’s office and the Uniform Law Commission (ULC).

“Delaware is taking a leading role in fighting human trafficking here in our state and also across the globe,” said Biden. “This bill expands criminal penalties to cover people on the ‘demand side’ of human trafficking. Equally important, this bill brings Delaware into the next phase of fighting human trafficking — helping victims escape the vicious circle of trafficking and enabling them to rebuild their lives. Human trafficking victims are among the most vulnerable among us. This bill gives law enforcement important new tools to protect them.”

Human trafficking is now the second fastest growing crime in the United States, behind only drug trafficking, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The Delaware legislation sharpens the state’s provisions that penalize the criminal conduct — trafficking, forced labor and sexual servitude — at the core of human trafficking and punishes those who knowingly benefit by using human-trafficking victims. Courts will be empowered to order that traffickers forfeit property used in or gained by trafficking.

The legislation is also designed to provide the protections and remedies that human-trafficking victims — including child-victims — need to recover and rebuild their lives. The legislation creates a Human Trafficking Coordinating Council — comprising representatives from the courts, prosecutors, Homeland Security, health care, victim services and other agencies — to develop a comprehensive anti-human-trafficking plan, evaluate data, effectuate interagency cooperation, and other important tasks.

“Many of us don’t realize how frequently people of all ages fall victim to human trafficking right here in the United States, including Delaware, or understand the lasting and damaging impact that it has on individuals and their families,” Blevins said. “Not only does this bill strengthen our ability to penalize those who carry out these crimes, but it provides protections for victims, so that they are not criminalized for acts which they were forced to commit.

“Also, through the Council established under this bill, Delaware will continue to coordinate and develop rehabilitative services to help victims cope mentally and physically after their abuse, and get them back on their feet.”

“It is unthinkable that in 2014 we are talking about 2 million people annually being bought and sold around the world. While that number is much smaller in the United States, we must do everything in our power to put an end to this inhuman practice,” said Keeley, the bill’s chief House sponsor.

“In Delaware, vulnerable boys, girls and women are being coerced into prostitution and are victimized and abused. No person should be treated like this, and we as a society can’t tolerate it. Our bill is a comprehensive approach, toughening penalties on those who commit and profit from the crime while protecting the victims whose lives are shattered by this act. I hope we can move swiftly to put these reforms into place.”

“Today’s bill introduction marks a watershed in Delaware’s fight against human trafficking,” Delaware Uniform Law Commissioner and ULC Immediate Past-President Michael Houghton said. “The Uniform Law Commission will continue to work with Attorney General Biden’s office, Sen. Blevins and Rep. Keeley to strengthen the criminal penalties that hold traffickers accountable and to help innocent victims escape from traffickers’ grasp to a better life.”

The Delaware bill was based in part on the Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking. The Uniform Act was drafted and approved by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) in 2013 and endorsed by the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in August 2013.

The Uniform Act has been the basis for anti-human trafficking legislation in numerous states this year, including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Virginia. More information on the nation-wide effort can be found atwww.letsendhumantrafficking.org.

A coalition of organizations joined the ULC in creating the Uniform Act, including the ABA, the ABA Center for Human Rights, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Polaris Project, LexisNexis, the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and other organizations committed to eradicating human trafficking.

The Uniform Law Commission comprises more than 350 practicing lawyers, government lawyers, judges, law professors and lawyer-legislators who are appointed by each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to research, draft, and promote enactment of uniform state laws in areas of law where uniformity is desirable and practical. Since 1892, the ULC has aimed to serve the states and their citizens by creating uniform state laws that help families, businesses, property owners, service members, and many more.