ST GEORGE – During the 2014 General Session of the Utah Legislature, Rep. Jennifer M. Seelig, D- Salt Lake City, proposed a bill aimed at amending provisions related to human trafficking and prostitution. The bill was signed into law by the governor March 29.
The new law passed the House on Feb. 24 with a vote of 73–0 vote and two not voting. All Southern Utah Representatives voted in favor of the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed on March 6 with 27 in favor, none against and two not voting. Sens. Evan Vickers, Ralph Okerlund and David Hinkins voted for the bill, while Sen. Steve Urquhart did not vote.
Specifically, this law provides that a child is not subject to a delinquency proceeding for engaging in prostitution unless a law enforcement officer has referred the child to the Division of Child and Family Services on at least one prior occasion for an alleged act of prostitution or sexual solicitation.
This law amends the law to require DCFS to offer services to children who are engaging in prostitution, and, likewise to require law enforcement officers who encounter a child engaging in prostitution to refer that child to DCFS.
If a child is arrested, when possible, police will take the child to a receiving center, contact the child’s parents, and the DCFS. If the child has not been referred for prostitution previously, the DCFS will provide services. If the child has been found to have been referred before, then they will be subject to delinquency proceedings.
“It has been found in states nationwide that when children are picked up for engaging in the sex trade, that they are treated as criminals right off,” Seelig said to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Feb. 12. “We wanted to pattern our code after the best practices and be sure they were routed into a track of care and concern, to be able to identify services or needs, still under state’s custody, but to be able to get the services to the child. That’s what this bill is about.”
As we learn more and more about human trafficking, we have tried to make changes to be able to facilitate victim’s rights, and the prosecution of some really bad people, Seelig said to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
Human trafficking has become a topic of heightened concern in Utah on the heels of a few human trafficking cases.
In March, two people were arrested in Salt Lake City after allegedly kidnapping a woman in New York and forcing her into prostitution in a human trafficking operation.
Victor Manuel Rax was arrested Feb. 11 and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on 31 felony charges including aggravated human trafficking for forced labor involving a child, racketeering, and multiple counts of forcible sodomy on a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, child endangerment and object rape.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an organization who compares human trafficking to modern slavery, and who is working to combat the problem, listed on their website that between December 2007 and September 2013, the center received 275 calls that originated in Utah claiming human trafficking. Sixty-one of those calls were in 2013.
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