Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking Bill Becomes Law In Mass.

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, November 21, 2011
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Nov. 21, 2011

human trafficking

A scene from Oakland, Ca. The new Mass. bill treats women who are trafficked for sex as the victims, not the criminals. (Youth Radio News via NPR)

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill on Nov. 21  to crack down on human trafficking in the Bay State. 

People who traffic others for sex or forced labor may now be punished “by a mandatory-minimum term of five years, with a potential maximum sentence of up to 20 years, and a fine of up to $25,000,” with businesses fined up to $1 million, according to a statement from the Governor’s office. If the person being trafficked is under 18, the sentence may increase to life in prison. The bill also includes stricter penalties against customers who seek out prostitutes. 

At the signing, Gov. Patrick said the law creates new tools to deal with a devastating problem: “one that disrupts families, that turns lives upside down, that affects communities and has ripple effects throughout a whole host of corners of our Commonwealth and our character as a commonwealth.”

Read the governor’s press release with additional information about the bill.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who was also at the signing, said law enforcement is rethinking how it approaches prostitution. The new law treats young women and women forced into prostitution as victims instead of offenders, she said, and “change[s] the lens.”

“In a criminal justice system that under-punishes johns, that has left unpunished those who would make money off of trafficking, we have focused on the very people who have been victimized the most,” she said.

The law also provides education, shelter and other services to victims.

Anti-Human-Trafficking Bill Passes Mass. Senate

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, July 1, 2011
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July 1, 2011

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday passed an historic human trafficking bill that will expand protections for victims and give law enforcement new statutory powers to go after pimps and other predators.

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford, has been six years in the making. Its passage comes in the same week that the U.S. State Department added several new countries to its list of nations that have done little to curb this illicit enterprise.

In the United States itself, human trafficking, according to the Justice Department, is believed to be the fastest-growing crime in the country. Though the number of victims is not known, Massachusetts is not immune to its effects. In recent weeks, police have rescued two teenagers who were being held against their wills by pimps.

The Senate anti-trafficking bill passed Thursday differs from the House version passed in May in that it places more emphasis on the victim. Senator Mark Montigny says this emphasis is critical.

"The prosecution doesn’t work if you don’t support the victim because they are afraid. If you don’t give them the resources to keep them away from this criminal who has controlled their life through rape, through beatings, through drugs, in many case it is a scared run-away child who historically has been treated as a juvenile delinquent instead of a victim of statutory rape or a woman trafficked across international borders," Montigny said.

Massachusetts is one of five states that has not yet enacted an anti-human trafficking bill into law. This year — working with Senator Mark Montigny -- Attorney General Martha Coakley made the bill a priority.

And with his signature, Governor Deval Patrick is expected to make it the law of the land.

Advocates: Trafficking Bill Should Be Stronger

By Phillip Martin   |   Thursday, June 23, 2011
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June 23, 2011

BOSTON — After six years of political wrangling, lawmakers on Beacon Hill are close to passing a bill aimed at upending the state's human-trafficking operations. And its biggest proponents are using its final weeks on the table to try and strengthen it.

A high-profile push by Attorney General Martha Coakley helped an anti-human trafficking bill pass the House several weeks ago. The bill includes strict penalties for pimps, and allows prostitutes to be viewed as trafficking victims, not perpetrators themselves. Now, the bill is being sheparded through the Senate by a legslator who has been the prime force pushing for anti-trafficking legislation for years.

But despite (or perhaps because of) his experience with the issue, Sen. Mark Montigny seems almost wary about the bill finally becoming law.

"Well I became involved in the issue in 2005 and filed at the time one of the first bills in the country, and here we are, six years later, one of the last states in the nation to do that. I’m deeply frustrated by that," Montigny said.

Now, Montigny is inviting anti-trafficking advocates to Beacon Hill to make sure their contributions to the bill are recognized.

"I wanted to make sure that first, that we respected the work of the coalition because these are the folks that have helped me over the years develop good law, but also to help them get motivated," Montigny said.

Motivated, he means, to push for a final bill that he says is even stricter and more comprehensive than the just-passed House version.
"We need a very strict criminal penalties bill that puts these evil people where they belong, in jail for a long time but also recognizes that most of these victims are children and vulnerable women and they need to be treated as victims," Montigny said. "It's a criminal penalties bill, but it’s also a victims’ rights bill."

The bill would help provide victims with education, shelter and other resources.
But anti-trafficking coalition members want more. Maureen Gallagher of Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts coalition that addresses sexual assault and domestic violence, said that the final legislation should include stricter penalties against customers who seek out prostituted adolescents and adults.
“We need to be addressing demand because otherwise you’re dealing with the issue as a band-aid, by providing services to victims but not doing that primary prevention piece, which is to stop this from happening in the first place,” Gallagher said.
Another advocate, Paul Taylor of Danvers, who is a former state investigator, said partnering victims and law enforcement with non-governmental organizations is key to the success of the legislation. These foreign victims will need help navigating the situation.
“If they are from another country or don’t speak English, they have no idea about their rights. So unless they’re told that they can just be deported, I want to see something put in there to make it so that they have to be in contact with an NGO or some kind of advocate for those people when they go in to make the arrest,” Taylor said.
Montigny said he has taken all of these suggestions into account. He sees a silver lining to the fact it took Massachusetts so long to turn a bill into law: The similar laws on the books in nearly ever other state can provide some instruction.
“We’ve seen what other states have done well and not so well. So we have a fighting chance of putting together a more comprehensive bill than some states,” he said.
The full Senate is expected to take up the legislation as early as next week.

Coakley Human Trafficking Bill Garners Lawmaker, Victim Support

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Wednesday, May 18, 2011
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May 18, 2011

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is pressing lawmakers on an initiative to crack down on human trafficking in the Bay State.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Coakley said young women forced into prostitution are treated as criminals when they should be treated as victims.

In Oakland, Ca., funding cuts mean police target women who are trafficked for sex. In Mass., AG Coakley is filing a bill that would emphasize targeting pimps and johns. (Youth Radio News via NPR)

“It’s unfair. We need tools to make sure we can go after the demand, the johns, and particularly those who would make money off the exploitation of people just as they do with guns or drugs,” Coakley said.
Coakley has filed a bill that would make human trafficking for labor or sex a felony. Right now, there's no data on how pervasive the problem is in the Commonwelath, but Coakley's bill would create a data tracking system.
The legislation would also impose much stronger penalties against pimps and johns. Currently, pimps could face between three months to two years in prison or a few hundred dollars in fines. Under the bill, they could be sentenced to 20 years for trafficking adults or to life in prison for trafficking children. 
The proposal would also provide education, shelter and other services to victims.

Tanee Hobson of Dorchester supports the measure. She says she was forced into prostitution as a 14-year-old, and says the bill could help girls like her escape the sex trade.          

“Having the pimps be able to be prosecuted more then they already are and getting more services shows the girl that they don’t have to stay in longer than they have to, and that we’re going after the pimps and they’re not getting off as easily as they have been,” Hobson said.
The bill has broad support from law enforcement and anti-trafficking advocates across the state. It will be considered by the Joint Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon.

Human Trafficking in New England: The Series

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, April 15, 2011
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AG Calls For Human Trafficking Law

By Phillip Martin   |   Friday, January 21, 2011
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Jan. 21, 2011

BOSTON — Attorney General Martha Coakley is calling for passage of legislation that would outlaw human trafficking for sex and other forced labor in Massachusetts, targeting both domestic pimps and international traffickers operating in the commonwealth.   
The legislation would make trafficking of humans for sexual servitude a crime, carrying a penalty of no more than 20 years in prison. Both traffickers who profit from forced labor and pimps who prey on the young are targeted by the bill.

The legislation, which has broad support from law enforcement and anti-trafficking advocates across the state, would also provide education, shelter and other  resources to victims.
"This statute gives us enforcement tools to look at providing the appropriate programs for young people particularly pulled into the life, and will help us educate the public on what we need to do to make sure that we stop human trafficking," Coakley said.

The bill represents an expansion of human trafficking legislation that has been lingering for five years in the Massachusetts House. The Senate version passed unanimously last year.

Anti-trafficking advocates have long complained about the state’s failure to create effective  statutory tools against trafficking. Massachusetts is only one of five states that does not have a comprehensive human trafficking law. 

A human trafficking task member told WGBH that Thursday’s announcement represents a major step in the right direction .

About the Authors
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at


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