Several States Crack Down on Human Trafficking

Human trafficking - a practice the federal government considers the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world - soon will draw tougher penalties in some states.

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently signed two trafficking-related measures into law, The Houston Chronicle notes . One takes aim at repeat offenders, imposing new criminal penalties up to life imprisonment without parole. The other specifically targets offenders who force others into prostitution and toughens release conditions for those who are paroled or have posted bail, among other changes. Both pieces of legislation won broad bipartisan support in a state where Democrats and Republicans have spent much of the session jousting over other matters.

California and Massachusetts also are advancing legislation to address human trafficking, which has been characterized by Perry and others as a form of "modern slavery" and often involves children or runaways being forced into prostitution or labor.

The California Assembly unanimously approved legislation that would give prosecutors more leeway to go after those who engage in the practice, according to the Oakland Tribune . The bill would allow prosecutors to show that persuasion or encouragement, rather than physical force, was used to pressure a victim into prostitution or another arrangement.

In Massachusetts, the state House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation that would, among other things, treat some minors accused of prostitution as victims rather than criminals, according to The Boston Globe . The bill also would increase penalties on "johns," or those who purchase the service of prostitutes, while giving judges more leeway to hand tougher sentences to pimps.

Forty-six states - but not Massachusetts - have legal provisions dealing specifically with human trafficking, The Globe not es . Massachusetts will join the list if the state Senate, as expected, goes along with the House measure. The federal government also has laws against human trafficking, but local prosecutors often lobby for a variety of state provisions so they have more legal tools to use against offenders.

Tags: Justice