House passes “safe harbor” bill for human trafficking victims

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Alabama may soon offer safe harbor provisions for children who have been victims of human trafficking. Under House Bill 433, children who have been victims of sexual exploitation cannot be convicted of prostitution and must be tried in the juvenile court system. Adults convicted of promoting prostitution will incur a $500 fine on top of any restitution they might be ordered to pay.

Rep. Jack Williams sponsored the legislation, which passed the House unanimously on Tuesday. He also chairs the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, a bipartisan group formed in 2014 to fight the state’s growing problem of human trafficking.

According to the task force website, human trafficking cases have been reported in Montgomery County, Birmingham, Fort Payne, Madison County, Huntsville, Albertville, Guntersville, Dothan, and Mobile. With estimated profits as high as $150 billion, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the country. Alabama has had a human trafficking law since 2010, however HB 433 would introduce a new layer of protections for child victims. In addition to keeping children in juvenile court, the bill says child victims will have access to shelter, health care and mental health counseling.

Williams said that the goal of HB 433 is to “keep minors charged with prostitution under the authority of DHR and out of the courts, insuring the state treats them as victims not criminals.”

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