By Sarah Drury
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Two bills before the General Assembly would impose harsher penalties on people convicted of human trafficking and fund services to help victims of the crime.
Senate Bill 710, introduced by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, would designate new felonies for trafficking people for forced labor or sexual servitude. It also would establish the Virginia Prevention of Human Trafficking Victim Fund.
House Bill 1964, introduced by Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, would make the trafficking of a minor for commercial sexual activity a Class 2 felony. The mandatory minimum punishment would be 10-20 years in prison, based on the age of the minor.
Hugo was unavailable for comment about HB 1964, but he has stated in the past that he is “dedicated to ensuring child sex traffickers remain behind bars for such horrific behavior, so that no child in Virginia falls prey to predators who seek to do them harm.”
SB 710 would establish an anti-trafficking committee under Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security. The committee would include representatives from such agencies as the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the Virginia State Police and the attorney general’s office.
The committee would seek to improve the way the commonwealth responds to human trafficking. For example, it might help agencies share and analyze information about the crime. And agencies might identify and remove barriers keeping victims of human trafficking from receiving assistance such as emergency and transitional housing or mental health and substance abuse counseling.
Under the legislation, the committee would gather each December to discuss its activities, accomplishments and possible recommendations. The bill also seeks to establish the Virginia Prevention of Human Trafficking Fund. It would help commonwealth’s attorneys hire more prosecutors to work on human trafficking cases. Law enforcement agencies also could access the fund to provide services for victims.
Moreover, SB 710 would force people convicted of trafficking to pay restitution to their victims for each day they were held.
“We must send traffickers, buyers and facilitators the message that they are not welcome in our state,” Hugo says on his website. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to continue the fight against human trafficking.”
HB 1964 focuses specifically on the trafficking of people for commercial sexual activity. It states that anybody “who recruits, transports, harbors, receives, provides, obtains, isolates, maintains, patronizes, solicits, or entices another person to engage in commercial sexual activity” is guilty of a Class 2 felony.
Moreover, it would be a Class 3 felony to receive money knowing it came from such a crime.
HB 1964 was filed Tuesday and is awaiting assignment to a committee. SB 710 has been referred to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.