Huge gaps in sex trafficking laws

Published 11:04 pm Friday, December 4, 2015

The October arrests of dozens of men in the Southeast for sex trafficking again show Alabama is a nexus for the trade.
The regional crackdown involved nine men arrested after indictments in Florida, 38 following Georgia indictments, and spread across eight states and 27 cities. Two were arrested in Montgomery and three others have been indicted out of the middle district of Alabama.
As the Montgomery Advertiser’s Kelsey Davis reported, charges against the men in the highly organized pipeline include transporting persons across state lines to engage in prostitution, controlling a location to prostitute illegal aliens and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor.
Details of the Montgomery connection to the ring are horrendous.
Jose Juan Ruiz Prudencio, 40, allegedly picked up women from the Greyhound Bus Station downtown and was involved, along with Emerson Corvera, in transporting them for the sex trafficking ring,
Bernabe “El Chaparro” Carbajal, arrested in Georgia, ran brothels in Montgomery, Birmingham and Albertville, according to court records.
The victims were referred to and marketed like meat, advertised by attributes such as age and country of origin and shuffled from one brothel to the next.
The large scope of the sting is unprecedented and a much needed salvo to combat an evil that simmers, mostly invisibly, beneath the surface of civilized life.
Sex trafficking entraps as many as 200,000 victims nationwide at any time. Atlanta’s interstate corridors make the Southeast, including Alabama, prime real estate for traffickers.
Alabama’s Human Trafficking Task Force was established by the Legislature in 2014 to bring together the numerous federal, state and local agencies on the front lines of the battle.
In a significant step forward, the panel reached an agreement with the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work to perform an assessment of how the state handles sex-trafficking cases.
The assessment should help organizations coordinate efforts to catch sex traffickers and aid victims.
Obvious gaps that must be addressed include tougher laws to attack sex-trafficking crimes from the “demand” side – meaning harsher penalties for johns who solicit sex.
For starters, solicitation of a prostitute should be a felony charge, not just a misdemeanor.
Requiring that convicted johns register as sex offenders would also discourage demand.
When it comes to minors, the system is shockingly flawed.
Soliciting sex from a minor is a felony, but felony charges aren’t always levied against those who rape young girls or boys who are being trafficked.
That must change.
Meanwhile, Alabama has an urgent need for more shelters and services for trafficking victims.
Police, court system and school employees need training in how to handle sex-trafficking cases, including confidentiality concerns for exploited children.
State Rep. Jack Williams’ Safe Harbor bill to prohibit minor sex-trafficking victims from being prosecuted for prostitution also deserves support from Alabama lawmakers.
It should come with funding to provide shelter space and other aid, so young victims can escape the trafficking hellhole and return to a normal life.
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