Politics & Government

Bill aims to increase penalties for human trafficking in Kansas

An initiative against commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking aims to increase penalties for offenders and provide protection for victims under 18.

The bill, SB 61, was introduced Monday.

Proponents say it will give Kansas law officers the tools needed to deter human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. Human trafficking is a $32 billion crime industry worldwide, and occurs in Kansas at a rate the state is now unprepared to address, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Thankfully, for the vast majority of residents … this isn’t something we see or even fathom,” Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, said. “For those who it affects, the impacts are just horrific.”

SB 61 modifies existing laws, creating the new crime of commercial sexual exploitation of a child. It would allow authorities to hold and treat victims of human trafficking as victims. It also allows coordinated training for human trafficking policy enforcement and establishes an advisory board consisting of entities from several state agencies.

Timothy Henderson, a judge in the juvenile division of Sedgwick County District Court, said he knows the difficulty involved with prosecuting human trafficking cases.

“I deal with the victims. They are very angry and they don’t see themselves as somebody who wants to be rescued,” he said. “This bill gives me an option to treat her without her running away.”

The crime of promoting prostitution would be renamed “the sale of sexual relations.” It would be a felony with first offenses requiring fines of between $2,500 and $5,000. Repeat offenders would see fines of $5,000 and above.

The bill also changes the name of the crime of patronizing a prostitute to “buying sexual relations.” This crime would be a misdemeanor with a fine of $2,500. Repeat offenders could face a felony charge and fines of no less than $5,000.

The bill also establishes a human trafficking victim assistance fund that would draw money from court fines. The fund is projected to raise $636,000 from these fines. The Department of Children and Families estimates an added $107,500 in placement, facility and assessment costs for fiscal 2014.

“Making changes like this sends the message to people that there are penalties,” said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett. “Penalties and perception go hand in hand.”

The core component of the bill is the creation of rapid response teams that would allow various placement options for victims, said Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families.

“Our vision for the children is to go from victims to survivors,” Gilmore said.

King emphasized the bill aims to treat victims with care.

“It’s not just about arresting folks,” King said. “It’s not just about convicting criminals. It’s about treating the victims, and these young girls are victims. We need to treat them under the law as victims. We need to give them the help they need and recognize their unique circumstances. I think we have the tools in this bill to do that.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee will work on the bill Thursday.