Bobby Jindal-Backed Trafficking Bill Also Cracks Down on Prostitution
By Lauren McGaughy
Published on March 11, 2014 in The Times-Picayune
A new push by Gov. Bobby Jindal to further toughen the state’s human trafficking laws doesn’t just provide new legal protections for victims and harsher penalties for perpetrators; it also serves to crack down on prostitution writ large in Louisiana by zeroing in on madams and pimps who further the practice.
State Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, will sponsor House Bill 1025. After a pre-filing deadline passed weeks ago, lawmakers have five additional bills they might introduce during the 2014 legislative session, which began Monday.
While Louisiana has some of the toughest human trafficking laws in the nation — last year, the governor signed legislation toinclude the crime in its racketeering statute — the problem is still pervasive in the state that boasts active shipping hubs and a vibrant tourism economy that both benefits the state economically and also can serve as a breeding ground for large-scale sex crimes.
Current human trafficking laws in Louisiana make it unlawful for anyone to “knowingly recruit, harbor, transport, provide, solicit, obtain, or maintain the use of another person through fraud, force, or coercion to provide services or labor.” Abramson’s bill would add to this “receiving, isolating, and enticing another person in order to engage in sexual services or labor.”
It would also define “debt bondage” and make it illegal as well as further specify what constitutes coercion into trafficking.
Perhaps the most significant portion of the legislation as it regards human trafficking, is it would give victims of human trafficking a legal mechanism to vacate a prostitution conviction. A provision of this sort would especially helptrafficking survivors like Clemmie Greenlee, who spoke of her nearly three-decades in the sex trade at a press conference Tuesday with the governor and multiple lawmakers.
“I wanted to be an RN and I was labeled a prostitute because I didn’t even know what human trafficking was,” said Greenlee, who said she was in and out of prison “over a hundred times” before ending the cycle.
“I would love to see a change come,” she said, adding, “I thank the governor. He didn’t know how much that meant to me…because he is taking on something that really is well needed in the state of Louisiana.”
State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, has also filed a separate trafficking bill that would allow local courts to train judges and staff to work specifically on human trafficking cases. During the Tuesday press conference, Stokes said her bill would help judges distinguish a victim of sex trafficking from “a person perpetrating a crime.”
While not a focus of the press conference Tuesday, a hefty portion of Abramson’s human trafficking bill additionally serves to stiffen Louisiana’s anti-soliciting and anti-prostitution laws, especially as they deal with minors engaged in sexual activity for pay.
While prostitution is already illegal in Louisiana, and carries the penalty of up to a $500 fine and six months in jail for a first offense, Abramson’s bill would formally create the crime of “unlawful purchase of commercial sexual activity.” Anyone found to have engaged in this crime with a minor would need to register as a sex offender, if the bill is approved by state lawmakers.
The bill would also make repeated, large-scale prostitution-related offenses subject to racketeering charges, punishable with an automatic felony offense and a fine of up to $1 million, imprisonment for not more than 50 years or both. In addition to those engaged in prostitution, racketeering charges could also be levied against those who encourage or promote prostitution, as well as those who lease premises for prostitution or operate places of prostitution.
Jindal made clear the racketeering charges would also apply to anyone convicted of pornography involving juveniles and computer-aided solicitation of a minor, as well as keeping or letting “a disorderly place,” defined as a place intended to be “used habitually for any illegal purpose.”
The bill would also let courts seize property such as computers and vehicles owned by purveyors of places of prostitution, to be sold and the funds placed in a fund to benefit exploited children. The bill would also allow up to 50 percent of this fund to be used to train law enforcement on how to recognize and respond to trafficking cases.
Speaking during the Tuesday press conference, state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, lauded Louisiana for being ahead of the curve, but said more work needed to be done. He will carry HB1025 for Abramson if it reaches the Senate side.
“We get blamed for a lot of things in Louisiana. Sometimes we have to take credit for taking the initiative,” Long said, referring to a Human Trafficking Task Force that helped come up with the legislation. Jindal agreed.
“Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes being perpetrated against the people of Louisiana,” he said Tuesday. “For those monsters who want to prey on innocent women and children, our message is…’We’re going to make this the worst place you can be.'”
Lauren McGaughy is a state politics reporter based in Baton Rouge. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @lmcgaughy. Find her latest stories on the Baton Rouge hub’s Facebook page.