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Bill targets human traffickers for lawsuits

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A Republican lawmaker’s bill will allow victims of sex trafficking to sue their pimps and anyone else involved in the crime.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, touted her bill during the Criminal Justice Reform Committee hearing on Jan. 20  as a common sense approach to allowing victims to seek damages against sex traffickers and their co-conspirators. 

The bill, HB 2116, got unanimous approval in the House on Jan. 28 and will require  passage in the Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.  

Bolick read a testimony letter from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office that said while restitution is available in criminal cases, it is difficult to win convictions get restitution in cases involving human trafficking. And restitution only covers economic losses that occur during the trafficking itself and not other underlying damages caused. 

Dianne Post, an attorney and state coordinator for legislative action with National Organization for Women, said prosecutors often don’t ask for restitution and often don’t follow up on collecting it when a court orders it. 

She said the bill not only aims to give victims a chance at proper justice through compensation for physical or mental anguish they’d endured, but also as a preventative tool.

“Well, the idea is to give recompense and to help the victims recover, but of course, the more prevention-oriented goal is that if the perpetrators know that they could be financially sued and lose the money they made, then they won’t do it.” 

The bill not only aims to give victims a chance at proper justice through compensation for physical or mental anguish they’d endured but as a preventative tool as well. 

“Well, the idea is to give recompense and to help the victims recover, but of course, the more prevention-oriented goal is that if the perpetrators know that they could be financially sued and lose the money they made, then they won’t do it.” 

Since taking office in 2015, Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office has prosecuted or is currently prosecuting 267 cases involving 327 defendants connected to sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of minors, or illegal enterprises/money laundering. 

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 234 Human trafficking cases in Arizona in 2019, with 150 cases identified as sex trafficking. The organization connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services to support and help them.

Post said the reason it has taken so long for a piece of legislation like this to come up is because a lot of past efforts criminalized the victim. 

“We’ve worked on this bill at the federal level for many years, to ensure that the victim is treated as a victim because often times she’s [or he’s] treated as a criminal,” “She’s engaged in prostitution, so rather than being treated as a victim she’s treated as a perpetrator and therefore, is not seen as a person worthy of getting damages.” 

It’s a more complicated matter, according to Post, because there’s the issue of consent, and in many cases, of the individuals being enslaved or forced into these activities. 

“It would be the right direction should it pass, yes, but a lot more needs to be done, but it is a step in the right direction,” Post said.

Post recommended something along the lines of the Nordic model to combat sex trafficking in particular. 

“It is a model that says that all of the people involved in the trafficking and prostitution; the facilitator, the money man, the pimp, the buyer; all of those people are criminally liable, Post said.

Who would not be criminally liable would be the victim, said Post. The Nordic model approach to prostitution has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Canada, France, Ireland, and Israel. 

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