- Photo by Abigail Godwin, The Statehouse File.
- Deputy Marion County Prosecutor Mary Hutchinson listens to questions after testifying on behalf of Senate Bill 0004 at a committee meeting Thursday morning. Hutchinson said the bill, which aims to close loopholes in Indiana's current human trafficking laws, would be helpful to her investigations.
By Zach Osowski
A bill that enacts much harsher penalties on human traffickers passed a Senate committee 9-0 Thursday as lawmakers pushed to get the bill passed quickly.
With the Super Bowl one month away, legislators are facing a time crunch to get Senate Bill 4 — and other legislation — passed before football fans arrive in Indianapolis.
That's because the sex trade — and the human traffickers that drive some of it — will be arriving in Indianapolis for the game. The bill is meant to make it easier for prosecutors to address sex crimes in February but supporters say it will also address a problem that has been growing for a long time.
"It is crucial we get this done before the Super Bowl," Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, told the committee. "We need to have a plan in place. This law will broaden the definition of human trafficking and increase the penalties."
The proposal increases the charge for human trafficking — which can include the recruiting, harboring or selling of a person for purposes of prostitution, commercial sex acts, forced labor or involuntary servitude — to a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the crime involves a child under age 16, the charge would be an A felony, punishable by up to 50 years in prison with a fine as high as $10,000.
Currently, human trafficking is charged as a C felony, punishable by up to eight years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It only becomes an A felony under current law, if a parent or legal guardian is charged will selling a child.
Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Hutchinson is someone who has firsthand experience dealing with trafficking. She emphasized that the bill should be passed as soon as possible, but not just for the Super Bowl.
Human trafficking is a growing problem according to Hutchinson, and the proposed law is something that is very necessary not just for the Super Bowl, but for any event that might bring in large crowds.
"Increasing the punishment from C to a B felony is a key change," Hutchinson said.
Human trafficking is something that not many people know about, but the numbers suggest that it is a rather large, global industry, said David Miller, a deputy Indiana attorney general. He provided lawmakers with statistics about the international trafficking problem.
"Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry internationally," Miller said. "There are 12.3 million people trafficked across country borders every single year. This bill can make a difference today."
The bill deals only with those that supply the victims, not those that pay for the services, a point that was brought up by committee member Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. Although he voted to move out of committee, Taylor was adamant that more should be done to punish those that create a demand for the services.
Miller acknowledged that the bill doesn't address that issue. He assured Taylor, however, that there is a law dealing with those people. Under current law, it is a class C felony to purchase a sex slave, Miller said.
The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration. Head hopes get the bill to Gov. Mitch Daniel's desk by the end of this month.
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Statehouse File by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.