In 2011, the state of Massachusetts received an “F” in Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Challenge report. It received a final score of 45, with especially low scores regarding the criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking and protective provisions for child victims.
Just a year later, Massachusetts has been named the Most Improved State, raising its score by nearly 30 points! It’s an exciting accomplishment about which state lawmakers and advocates should be very proud. But how did they do it? Here’s an overview.
In 2011, the state received just 2.5 out of 7.5 points for its domestic minor sex trafficking laws. In 2012, it increased that score to 7.5 out of 10. It’s a more than 30% improvement that happened mainly because Massachusetts passed its first-ever sex trafficking law. The law not only addresses sex trafficking specifically, but does not require victims under 18 to prove force, fraud or coercion.
In addition, the new laws distinguish between buying sex with an adult and buying sex with a minor, and make it possible for purchasers to be charged with trafficking crimes as well.
Massachusetts also recognized that the internet has changed the way human trafficking crimes are committed. In response, state lawmakers passed legislation that imposes a five year sentence, and/or a fine of $2,500 for anyone convicted of “human trafficking or commercial sexual activity by electronic communication.” There is also a mandatory five year sentence and minimum $10,000 fine for any subsequent offense.
But they didn’t stop there! Massachusetts also took significant steps towards protecting child trafficking victims. The state enacted laws specifically designed to provide specialized services to all sexually exploited youth, and allow trafficking victims to use trafficking as a defense against prostitution charges. The laws also allow victims under 15 years of age to testify via closed-circuit television. And finally, the statute of limitations was extended to 15 years for human trafficking charges, and eliminated entirely for sex trafficking of minors.
Governor Deval Patrick has high hopes that the new laws will serve Massachusetts well, saying that it will “protect innocent victims, and give Massachusetts the tools to prosecute the criminals committing these egregious crimes to the fullest extent.” Also showing optimism is Representative Eugene L. O’ Flaherty, who says the new laws “give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to combat this issue that is often hidden from society and provides victims, particularly young children, with the safety and services they need to get their lives in order.”