Friday, July 9, 2010

New Alabama Law

Human trafficking is now a felony in Alabama since the state passed its first law addressing the issue June 25 and began being enforced July 1.

The law defines a victim of human trafficking as anyone who is put through sexual servitude, labor servitude or involuntary servitude.

Polaris Project is an anti-human trafficking organization proclaiming the mission of a world without slavery. According to the organization’s website, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

Polaris Project’s Policy Council Consult, Kristen Fortin, said the organization’s hotline has received 54 calls from people in Alabama since December 2007, with 13 referencing potential human trafficking situations within the state.

“It’s very difficult to come by statistics,” Fortin said.

She explained the only statistics they have are those based on calls that have been made, as human trafficking is a hidden crime.

State Rep. Jack Williams said there are no statistics relating to the occurrence of human trafficking in Alabama because, until recently, it was not a state crime.

Fortin said a lot of legislators don’t realize human trafficking is an issue in their state, which is why some states don’t have laws against it. But anyone can be subject to trafficking.

“It’s basically anyone who is vulnerable,” Fortis said, providing examples of potential victims such as children, runaways and immigrants.

Williams provided an example of how an illegal immigrant could get caught up in human trafficking: Someone may offer them a way to get to America and ensure they have a job. So that person is brought in illegally and forced into servitude through threats of turning them in or of harming their family.

Alabama’s new law is the most comprehensive anti-human trafficking law in the country.

According to the law, in the first degree, human trafficking will be considered a Class A felony, punishable by 10 years to life in prison. In the second degree, it will be a Class B felony, punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.

The law continues by listing the various fines anyone violating the law will be subject to. Some of the fines include mandatory restitution to the victim, costs of medical and psychological treatment, costs of the investigation and whichever is greater: minimum wage for the trafficking victim’s labor or the gross value of the victim’s servitude.

The law also states victims may bring civil action in state courts, potentially being awarded actual damages, punitive damages and appropriate forms of relief.

“We were very closely involved with the legislation that passed,” Fortin said.

However, she continued by saying she would have liked to see raising awareness of the issue and informing people of what to do when they are involved in or aware of human trafficking incorporated into the law.

The easiest way to view Alabama’s anti-trafficking bill in its entirety is to do a Google search for “Alabama HB 432.”

To report a tip on human trafficking, contact the Polaris Project National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Read more: The Auburn Plainsman - Human Trafficking Becomes a Felony in Alabama