House GOP advances 2 human trafficking victim protection bills as others remain in limbo

House GOP advances 2 human trafficking victim protection bills as others remain in limbo

By COLE LONGCOR
Capitol News Illinois
clongcor@capitolnewsillinois.com

After Illinois received another failing grade from a national advocacy group, state House Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at further protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators of human trafficking.

Shared Hope International, an advocacy organization that works to prevent sex trafficking, said in its 2023 Illinois report card that the state’s grade improved from 48 to 54.5 out of 100 between 2021 and 2023, but that still marked an ‘F’ grade. 

“Of the six metrics that they use to grade a state’s efforts to protect victims of exploitation and support their recovery, Illinois only receives one passing grade of ‘B’ for prosecuting abusers,” Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said at a news conference. “That means we have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to helping victims get their lives back together after traumatic events occur.”

Shared Hope International grades Illinois’ policies for protecting human trafficking victims. (Photo from Shared Hope International)

Human trafficking, as defined in the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, is “the act of recruiting, harboring, moving, or obtaining a person by force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of involuntary servitude, debt bondage or sexual exploitation.”

Since Shared Hope revamped its state report card framework after 2019, Illinois has continuously received an “F” ranking. The 2023 report cites gaps in multiple policy categories, including juvenile justice system services, training and jurisdiction. The report also recommends improving other policies such as orders of protection.

Illinois’ lowest scoring category was continuum of care, which includes funding and services for victims. Illinois received 4 out of 15 points, or 27 percent, for its care policies. Illinois does have laws in place to protect children and received 5 points of extra credit in 2023 for its inclusion of minors in its laws and definitions. One point of the 6.5-point increase from 2021 to 2023 was for extra credit regarding child labor trafficking. 

“While we’ve made strides in certain areas, we’re failing in crucial aspects, particularly in victim protections,” Rep. Nicole La Ha, R-Homer Glen, said at a news conference. “The failing grade Illinois received highlights the urgency of this situation. We cannot continue to overlook the needs of trafficking victims.”

Human trafficking remains a problem in Illinois, with some data suggesting it has increased in recent years. Data from the Human Trafficking Institute ranks Illinois the 5th highest state for sex trafficking, and 9th highest for labor trafficking. 

The National Human Trafficking Hotline received an average of around 162 signals per year between its start in 2007 and changing its reporting method after 2014. Since that change, the hotline has received an average of approximately 842 signals from Illinois.   

In total, signals from Illinois have resulted in the identification of 2,237 trafficking cases involving 4,817 victims. To report an incident to the hotline, call 1-888-373-7888.

 

Proposed legislation

House Republicans have proposed seven bills to improve human trafficking protections and penalties. The bills focus on protections for minors and prosecuting perpetrators. 

“If we can start creating awareness that this happens at that young age, we could start to bring attention that trafficking of all ages happens right here,” La Ha said in a recent interview.

House Bill 5465 would allow a human trafficking victim to have their juvenile record from crimes committed while being trafficked as a minor sealed or expunged. The proposal is an extension of House Bill 2418, which granted similar provisions to people who were trafficked as adults. The law was signed by Gov. JB Pritzker last year following unanimous approval by lawmakers and took effect on Jan. 1, 2024.  It also allows the victim to petition remotely, and to have the petition sealed. 

“One of the first steps in helping someone heal after an immense trauma like sexual abuse is ensuring that their past doesn’t follow them around and keep them from being someone new,” Keicher, the House sponsor of both bills, said at a news conference in March.

HB 5465 unanimously passed the House on April 17 and unanimously passed out of the Senate Special Committee on Criminal Law and Public Safety on May 1. The bill now awaits Senate consideration.

Keicher was recently appointed to the state’s Human Trafficking Task Force by House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna. This task force was created in 2021 and is made up of 26 members including legislators and agency officials. The task force was charged with conducting studies, developing procedures and training, and writing annual reports. But it has not made any recommendations or given any public updates despite an upcoming June 30 deadline to file its final report. 

La Ha’s House Bill 5467 unanimously passed the House on April 17. It would remove the statute of limitations for a victim to press charges of trafficking, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude that occurred when the victim was a minor. Under current law the prosecution must start within 25 years of the victim turning 18.

La Ha said the bill allows victims to “come to terms with their trauma in their own time” by giving them a greater window to “bring their trafficker to justice.”

La Ha and House Republicans have sponsored other related bills that remain in committee, some of them focusing on penalties for traffickers. Since two key deadlines for a bill’s passage have already passed, the proposals seem unlikely to move forward this year. 

House Bill 5134 would require those convicted of trafficking, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude of a minor to register as a sex offender. House Bill 5466 would remove the ability for a defendant to use the claim that they believed a minor engaging in prostitution was of legal age as an affirmative defense. 

When asked if the punitive nature of the bills was holding them back, La Ha agreed, saying, “100 percent.” 

Democrats in the General Assembly have historically opposed most bills that could be viewed as “sentence enhancements” for laws already on the books. 

Three other bills that have stalled are sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sanalitro, R-Hanover Park, and Rep. Brad Stephens, R-Rosemont. 

House Bill 5468 would create an affirmative defense for victims of human trafficking who committed crimes as part of being trafficked. Sanalitro said the bill will “ensure the legal system offers them protection and an avenue to justice.”

House Bill 5469 would create the Human Trafficking Order of Protection Act allowing victims of human trafficking, or a person on behalf of a juvenile victim, to file an order of protection against the perpetrator. 

House Bill 5470 builds on recommendations from the Shared Hope International report card, clarifying that anyone who “patronizes” a minor sex trafficking victim would be liable for involuntary sexual servitude. 

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

 

 

 

 

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