HB20, HB108 seek to strengthen human trafficking penalties

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Bryan Pearson
Lawmakers will consider new legislation to protect vulnerable victims of human trafficking in the upcoming 2019 general legislative session. (Bryan Pearson)

Two new bills sponsored by a Democratic representative from Salt Lake City propose amendments to human trafficking laws to protect trafficked children and vulnerable adults.

Rep. Angela Romero proposed HB20, which would protect vulnerable adults. Romero recounted the story of an adult woman with autism who was trafficked for sex by an Ogden couple running a brothel in their home. Because of her autism, she had difficulty making decisions and understanding social situations. According to her mother, she functioned at the level of a 15-year-old.

Human trafficking of adults is a second-degree felony in Utah, while trafficking children is a first-degree felony not requiring proof of force, fraud or coercion, because children are less capable of understanding and granting consent. For these reasons, HB20 would make human trafficking of a vulnerable adult — anyone older than 65 years or with the mental capacity of a child — a first-degree felony. The bill would apply the same legal framework that is used for children to vulnerable adult victims.

HB108 would modify language regarding safe harbor laws to ensure children engaged in commercial sex or sexual solicitation are treated as victims, not perpetrators. Law enforcement officers who encounter children engaged in commercial sex would be required to investigate whether the child is a trafficking victim.

“Anyone under the age of 18 can’t consent, so they’re considered a human trafficking victim, not an active participant in commercial sex,” Romero said.

Under HB108, children proven to have been trafficked would not face charges for commercial sex or sexual solicitation. With proof, the case against a child involved in trafficking would be dismissed.

“When you vacate a criminal charge it’s different than expungement,” Romero said. “When you vacate it, it’s like it never happened.”

HB20 appeared previously as HB334 in the 2018 general legislative session but did not proceed past the second reading calendar.

The 2019 general legislative session convened at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28 to discuss this and other legislation.

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