SALT LAKE CITY — A bill proposed in the Utah Legislature would create a human trafficking education program and require sexually-oriented business employees to participate in the program.
HB144, sponsored by Rep. Kyle R. Andersen, R-North Ogden, defines trafficking terms, provides development and content requirements for the online program, and directs government agencies overseeing the licensing of these businesses to require applicants to complete the program.
Every year millions of men, women and children are victims of sex trafficking in countries around the world. It’s estimated that human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking, is a $32 to $150 billion-a-year industry, second only to drug trafficking. “Too many of us believe it’s a crime that takes place in other countries, or only in big cities like New York, Chicago, and LA,” Andersen said.
Traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to lure their victims and force them into commercial sexual exploitation. “They often target their victims in the sexually oriented business industry,” Andersen said. “Many women working in lawful sexually oriented businesses become victims of sexual trafficking without even knowing it. If they do know, they have no knowledge of how to get help.”
Representatives of Operation Underground Railroad, a nonprofit organization that fights human trafficking, have said that education is the primary tool to help fight and prevent this crime. Operation Underground Railroad has already developed the training curriculum and have agreed to work with the Utah Attorney General’s office to help develop this platform.
The education program would be an online educational-based course, free to the public, that informs participants of the various forms and characteristics of human trafficking, how to identify someone who has been trafficked, the best practices for assisting a trafficking victim and the current resources available to victims of trafficking.
HB144 would require each person working in or owning a sexually oriented business to complete the education program. Government agencies and counties overseeing the licensure of sexually oriented businesses would require applicants and their employees to complete the program before a license is granted. “It’d be akin to getting a food handler’s permit if you’re working in the food handling business,” Andersen said.
Angela Kelly, former volunteer with Jewels, used to visit strip clubs in Salt Lake to serve women in all areas of the sex industry. “When I talk to victims, they don’t even know what trafficking is,” Kelly said. “The word they don’t even know. This is a way to educate them on what those signs would be. It’s such a big problem and education is the key.”
HB144 received favorable recommendation by the House Judiciary Committee, but is now stalled in the House. The bill was circled due to its significant fiscal note. Andersen is exploring ways to make the fiscal impact smaller. In addition, Andersen has been approached by individuals in the sexually oriented business industry to find a way to get training to those who need it most. “I want to hear them out,” Andersen said.