Gov. Henry signs Lamb-Peterson law fighting human trafficking

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 10-Jun-2010

Gov. Brad Henry has signed legislation that enhances the penalties for human trafficking and gives law enforcement officials more tools to pursue criminals.

“I appreciate the governor’s support of this important legislation, which will help law enforcement officials aggressively pursue and prosecute criminals who horribly abuse women and children,” said state Rep. Pam Peterson, a Tulsa Republican who authored the bill. “The legislation provides for a victim-centered approach and clearly defines ‘human trafficking’ in state law, increasing our ability to prosecute perpetrators.”

Senate Bill 956, by state Sen. Todd Lamb  of Edmond, and Peterson, aligns state law with the federal trafficking victims protection act, granting state law enforcement officials greater leeway to pursue human trafficking chargers against criminals.

“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 human trafficking and provide tougher punishment against those who make exploitation of human beings a criminal enterprise.”

Those convicted of human trafficking face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Senate Bill 956 increases trafficking penalties when victims are 18 or younger to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000. Previous law only enhanced the penalties when victims were 14 or younger.

Just as importantly, the legislation allows law enforcement to seize “any vehicle or conveyance used in any manner to facilitate or participate in the commission of any human trafficking offense.”

“Because Oklahoma is located at center of three interstates, we have had major human trafficking issues,” Peterson said. “Senate Bill 956 gives law enforcement officials more tools to prosecute these crimes, particularly asset seizure. By increasing the penalties in terms of both jail time and personal financial loss, this law will better deter criminals and save innocent women and children.”

In 2003, the Department of Justice reported the largest concentrations of trafficking survivors who received federal assistance resided in California, Texas, New York and Oklahoma.