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Last week, Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the Prohibition Against Human Trafficking Act [PDF] into law. The law will increase penalties for human trafficking in the District, provide services to victims, and mandate the collection of comprehensive data on human trafficking in D.C. Here are some highlights of how the bill will change D.C.’s approach to the problem, with details via the Polaris Project (emphasis mine):

CRIMINALIZATION. The new law creates crimes for both  “human trafficking” and “benefiting from human trafficking”:

* Human trafficking is defined as: “knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, or transporting a person for the purpose of providing labor or services,” either by “debt coercion; facilitating or controlling a person’s access to an addictive controlled substance; conduct that causes a person to reasonably believe that he or she is the property of a person or business; causing or threatening to cause financial or emotion harm to that person or another; [or] facilitating a minor to engage in a commercial sex act.”

* Benefiting from Human Trafficking “includes cases where an individual knew or reasonably should have known that the services or labor were being provided as a result of human trafficking.”

* The act also criminalizes “the act of destroying, concealing, etc., a victim’s identity documents, in order to maintain the person’s labor or services” and the “possession of child pornography” in the District (a detail the Polaris Project calls “a glaring loophole in current law”).

INCREASED PENALTIES. Criminal penalties for human trafficking can be increased depending on several factors:

* “Defendants found guilty of human trafficking or benefiting from human trafficking can be fined a maximum of $200k and imprisoned for a maximum of 20 years, or both.”

* “When the victim has been held for more than 180 days, the penalty for the defendant can be up to 1 ½ times the maximum fine or term of imprisonment, or both.”

* “When there are more than five victims, the penalty can be up to 3 times the maximum.”

* “Attempts can be punished up to half of the maximum for the completed crimes.”


* Protects more minors: The act raises the “maximum age of a victim” from 16 to 18 years old.

* Prevents a victim’s past sexual activities from being used in trial: “Creates an evidentiary privilege for victims to prevent evidence of past sexual activities of an alleged victim of human trafficking, including related pandering crimes, from being used in trial.”

* “Consent” not a defense: The act “prohibits the consent or permission to engage in prostitution by an alleged victim or by anyone on behalf of the alleged victim from being used as a defense.”

* Marriage not a defense, either: The act “expressly prohibits any kind of immunity from prosecution based on marriage, partnership or cohabitation
with the victim.

* Expands the statute of limitations: “Applies lengthier criminal and civil statutes of limitation for human trafficking crimes, and provides that the statute of limitations will not start running until the victim is no longer subject to the trafficker’s means of control and in the case of a minor, until they reach the age of majority.”

* Compensation: “Protects victims’ access to the Crime Victims’ Compensation fund by allowing victims of human trafficking who have not reported the crime to law enforcement to satisfy this requirement for accessing compensation funds by filing for a civil protection order.”

* Confidentiality: “Assures confidentiality of communications between human trafficking counselors and victims by creating a human trafficking victim / caseworker privilege.”


* Reporting: The act “creates a mandatory reporting requirement for human trafficking counselors.”

* Accountability: The act “requires the District government, with assistance from appropriate organizations and agencies, to collect and periodically publish statistical data on trafficking and trafficking-related crimes.”

Congress has 60 days to review the law.