June 23, 2011
BOSTON — After six years of political wrangling, lawmakers on Beacon Hill are close to passing a bill aimed at upending the state's human-trafficking operations. And its biggest proponents are using its final weeks on the table to try and strengthen it.
A high-profile push by Attorney General Martha Coakley helped an anti-human trafficking bill pass the House several weeks ago. The bill includes strict penalties for pimps, and allows prostitutes to be viewed as trafficking victims, not perpetrators themselves. Now, the bill is being sheparded through the Senate by a legslator who has been the prime force pushing for anti-trafficking legislation for years.
But despite (or perhaps because of) his experience with the issue, Sen. Mark Montigny seems almost wary about the bill finally becoming law.
"Well I became involved in the issue in 2005 and filed at the time one of the first bills in the country, and here we are, six years later, one of the last states in the nation to do that. I’m deeply frustrated by that," Montigny said.
Now, Montigny is inviting anti-trafficking advocates to Beacon Hill to make sure their contributions to the bill are recognized.
"I wanted to make sure that first, that we respected the work of the coalition because these are the folks that have helped me over the years develop good law, but also to help them get motivated," Montigny said.
Motivated, he means, to push for a final bill that he says is even stricter and more comprehensive than the just-passed House version.
"We need a very strict criminal penalties bill that puts these evil people where they belong, in jail for a long time but also recognizes that most of these victims are children and vulnerable women and they need to be treated as victims," Montigny said. "It's a criminal penalties bill, but it’s also a victims’ rights bill."
The bill would help provide victims with education, shelter and other resources.
But anti-trafficking coalition members want more. Maureen Gallagher of Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts coalition that addresses sexual assault and domestic violence, said that the final legislation should include stricter penalties against customers who seek out prostituted adolescents and adults.
“We need to be addressing demand because otherwise you’re dealing with the issue as a band-aid, by providing services to victims but not doing that primary prevention piece, which is to stop this from happening in the first place,” Gallagher said.
Another advocate, Paul Taylor of Danvers, who is a former state investigator, said partnering victims and law enforcement with non-governmental organizations is key to the success of the legislation. These foreign victims will need help navigating the situation.
“If they are from another country or don’t speak English, they have no idea about their rights. So unless they’re told that they can just be deported, I want to see something put in there to make it so that they have to be in contact with an NGO or some kind of advocate for those people when they go in to make the arrest,” Taylor said.
Montigny said he has taken all of these suggestions into account. He sees a silver lining to the fact it took Massachusetts so long to turn a bill into law: The similar laws on the books in nearly ever other state can provide some instruction.
“We’ve seen what other states have done well and not so well. So we have a fighting chance of putting together a more comprehensive bill than some states,” he said.
The full Senate is expected to take up the legislation as early as next week.
WGBH INVESTIGATES: HUMAN TRAFFICKING