Missouri recognized for anti-trafficking laws

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Missouri is one of the first states to criminalize human trafficking, and is among the few that regulate international marriage brokers and sex tourism travel agencies, a women's advocacy group said Wednesday.

But while Missouri has tackled these issues and nearly half the states have not, its laws should be strengthened to offer more safeguards to victims, the Washington-based Center for Women Policy Studies said.

"Missouri has taken some leadership. Early on, it started doing this," said Leslie Wolfe, president of the group that tries to shape public policy to improve women's lives.

She said Missouri should expand and improve its statutes to "save the lives of these women."

In a state-by-state report card released Wednesday, the center commended Missouri and Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, in particular, for shepherding several anti-trafficking laws in recent years.

"We've done a lot of what needs to be done," Bray said.

She credited Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for attaching the measures to other bills being handled by the Senate's Republican majority.

"He is as far to the right as I am to the left but is as disgusted (about these abuses) for his own reasons as I am for being a feminist," Bray said. "It's been a very interesting alliance. He and I are good friends because of this."

In 2004, Missouri criminalized sexual trafficking of a child, abusing someone through forced labor, trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation and contributing to trafficking by misusing documentation. Perpetrators must pay restitution.

The law could be strengthened by ensuring trafficked people are not prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit by their captors, and by requiring training for law enforcement, the center said.

Missouri law also says trafficking victims should have the same rights and protections provided by federal law. But the center says Missouri should provide some of those protections, including safe housing and services for abused and traumatized victims, as well as legal and translation services.

In 2005, Missouri became the fourth state to regulate international marriage brokers by requiring them to notify foreign mail-order brides that the criminal and marital history of their prospective Missouri husbands is available upon request in their language. The center recommends strengthening the law by requiring brokers to provide the information without being asked.

Regulating marriage brokers arose from the murders of two mail order brides who were killed by their husbands in Washington, the first state to adopt such protections, Wolfe said.

Last year, Missouri passed a law regulating travel agencies that facilitate sex tourism, largely over the Internet. Penalties include freezing of bank accounts and revoking articles of incorporation.

Missouri got special recognition for criminalizing the withholding of government identification documents to facilitate trafficking.

Tim Sallon, a staff attorney with the Immigration Law Project of Legal Services in St. Louis, said he relies on federal trafficking laws because they're a faster route to winning immigration status for victims.

He said the lure of a job has victimized many people who end up in Missouri forced into prostitution or working in fields or factories 12 hours a day.

Wolfe said it's important for states to have their own trafficking laws because the federal government can't prosecute every offender or provide services to every victim.

She said a Legal Services attorney in Missouri persuaded a client -- after Missouri enacted its trafficking law -- to tell police she'd been victimized.

"They immediately called immigration to have her deported," Wolfe said. "But the attorney had federal and state laws to back it up. It's good to have both in partnership."


On the Net:

Center for Women Policy Studies: http://www.centerwomenpolicy.org/

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