By NICK STANEK
Capital News Service
LANSING – House lawmakers recently approved a bill that would enhance penalties against sex traffickers, raising fines for brothel keepers from $2,500 to $5,000.
The law also extends a 20-year jail sentence to anyone caught trying to recruit prostitutes into the sex trade.
The bill was unopposed and is part of a series of bills to change how victims of sex trafficking are treated, said Rep. Joseph Graves, R-Argentine Township.
Human rights organizations across the state are pushing to shift the focus of sex crimes from victims.
“There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way prostitution cases are treated,” said Bridgette Carr, the director of the Human Trafficking Law Clinic in Ann Arbor. “The law treats [prostitutes] as criminals but the reality is, they are victims of sexual abuse.”
Carr said law enforcement lacks the resources that victims of sex crimes need to treat them as victims instead of criminals.
Since there is no system to accurately track the sex trade making it a difficult crime to fight, Carr said.
“It is not law enforcement’s fault– they don’t have the tools,” she said. “Communities need to step up and talk to their legislators because it affects every community differently. I don’t have that power. If I did I would have done it already.”
Leslie King is the founder of Sacred Beginnings, a Wyoming, Mich.-based recovery center for victims of sex trafficking.
“We’re going after the traffickers where the women are the victims, but it goes a lot deeper, we’re talking about human services, we’re talking about shelters, psychological needs, the main needs of the women,” King said. “That should be the main focus after we convict the pimps.”
Jane White, the director of the State of Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, an organization that combats all levels of human trafficking, said that without a system to track sex trafficking, fighting it is difficult.
“We don’t count the numbers because there isn’t a system set up to count the numbers,” she said.
The state needs people who recognize the crime, prosecutors who have been trained to prosecute it and judges and juries that understand the complexity of human trafficking, White said.
“There are, undoubtedly, many women who enter prostitution as a child who continue prostitution because that is the primary way she survives,” she said.
The bill also updates language in the law to accommodate male and female victims because some areas of the law treat only females as prostitutes.
“Unfortunately there are males, certainly under the age of 18, that have been impacted by that as well,” said Rep. Sarah Roberts (D-Saint Clair Shores), cosponsor of the bill.
The bill passed 109-0 in the House and was referred to the Committee on Families, Seniors, and Human Services in the Senate.
By NICK STANEK