The Alabama House has approved a bill to crack down on predators seeking to purchase sex via human trafficking, what many consider the last existing form of slavery in the United States.
The bill – HB 433, dubbed the “Safe Harbor Act” – passed the House on a unanimous 103-0 vote on Thursday.
Rep. Jack Williams, who chairs the Legislature’s bipartisan Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force formed in 2014, sponsored the bill.
The legislation is designed to treat minors caught up in the sex trade as victims, rather than willful law breaker, as it often the case now.
HB 433 provides that any minor found to have committed prostitution under state law not be transferred to or tried in adult court, and that a list of services including counseling, substance abuse treatment, legal representation, and medical treatment be made available to them.
The bill also requires Alabama businesses operating an “escort business of companionship” to registered with the Secretary of State, and provides for penalties for violations of the rules therein.
A similar bill, SB 368 by Democrat Sen. Vivian Figures, was also introduced this Session, but has not gotten a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Advocates for sex trafficking victims have estimated the trade is the second-largest criminal industry in the U.S., topped only by illegal drugs.