Kentucky police would be better trained to distinguish perpetrators from victims in cases of human trafficking if a bill that cleared the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday becomes law.
House Bill 350, sponsored by Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, also hits convicted traffickers where it hurts — in the wallet — by making them subject to asset forfeiture and requiring them to pay restitution to victims they have forced to work without wages.
Human trafficking amounts to slavery. Most of the victims in Kentucky have been brought from other countries, but there also is a significant amount of domestic human trafficking; the incidence of the crime involving children is on the rise, according to those who work with victims.
HB 350 fills gaps in a 2007 law that made human trafficking a crime in Kentucky.
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If it becomes law, proceeds from asset seizures would go into a fund for agencies that help victims, including law enforcement and prosecutors. Kentucky State Police would create a human trafficking unit, and basic law enforcement training would include information about human trafficking, including how to screen for child victims.
The measure creates a crime of patronizing prostitution that would be a felony if the person whose sexual services are being sold is under 18 and creates a misdemeanor crime of theft of labor by force or threat. The projected cost to Kentucky's corrections system would be minimal, according to the corrections impact analysis.
In cases of sexual trafficking, police may not readily recognize that the prostitute is a victim, especially when language is a barrier. Additional training for police and prosecutors could go a long way toward combating a crime that Kentuckians find abhorrent.
Especially in this session of modest ambitions, enacting HB 350 would be a real accomplishment.