On June 11, 2010, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed a piece of legislation that expands penalties for human trafficking and equips law enforcement officials to pursue the criminals involved in modern-day slavery more effectively.State Rep. Pam Peterson, a Tulsa Republican who proposed the bill, spoke the following about the changes: “This is a victim-centered approach that will clearly define ‘human trafficking’ in state law and increase our ability to prosecute these criminals.” Until now, the laws about trafficking were not precise, limiting state enforcement in their ability to pursue and prosecute those involved in these horrendous crimes. Lesser laws on prostitution or similar crimes had to be relied on to charge these criminals. “Senate Bill 956 will increase the state penalties facing perpetrators who horribly abuse women and children,” said Rep. Peterson.Senate bill 956 sponsored by state Sen. Todd Lamb and Peterson, sides the state law with the federal trafficking victims protection act signed by President Clinton in 2000, becoming a great instrument for the state law enforcement in pursuant of human trafficking criminals. The current law punishes those convicted of human trafficking with up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, while increasing penalties up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $20,000 when victims are 14 or younger. Under the new law, the increased penalties apply when the victims are 18 or younger. Additionally, the law enforcement is enabled to seize “any vehicle or conveyance used in any manner to facilitate or participate in the commission of any human trafficking offense.””Because of Oklahoma’s geographic location at the center of three interstates, we have had major human trafficking issues in our state,” Peterson said. “By strengthening legal definitions and allowing greater penalties, we’re giving law enforcement more tools to prosecute these crimes that will hopefully deter criminals and save innocent women and children.”According to the Department of Justice report in 2003, California, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas were the states with the highest numbers of victims of illegal trafficking receiving federal assistance. “Passage of SB956 will help local law enforcement dealing with the issue of human trafficking, which has largely gone unnoticed and unreported due lack of awareness and a state law,” said Mark Elam, Executive Director of Oklahomans Against Human Trafficking (OATH). “This legislation will clearly define trafficking and provide tougher punishment against those who make exploitation of human beings a criminal enterprise.”The passage and signing of the Bill 956 in Oklahoma is another victory in the battle against modern day slavery. However, we need to continue with the efforts to eliminate modern-day slavery in this country and in the world. I encourage you to look into and investigate if your state has any laws that give the law enforcement specific and direct powers to deal with illegal trafficking criminals. Please contact your state and local senators and representatives and let them know that modern-day slavery are terrible crimes, and there need to be precise provisions to charge and prosecute those involved. Also, do not hesitate to contact your federal elected officials to remind them to keep on working to eliminate modern day slavery in the US and in the world.
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