Monday, April 22, 2013
A new law that is designed to strengthen efforts in Kansas to combat human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of young women has been signed by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The governor signed the bill Monday, saying it will provide increased criminal penalties and services for victims of sexual exploitation.
"With this piece of legislation we are moving to the forefront of addressing this issue," Gov. Brownback said.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, non-profit organizations, social service providers and others collaborated to craft this legislation over the past year.
Wichita's groups played a key role in developing and supporting the legislation.
The bill creates the crime of commercial sexual exploitation of a child, covering those ages 14 to 17. That allows for tougher penalties.
"In the past those crimes would have been very, very low misdemeanors," Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said. "Now we can 'felonize' some of those crimes."
The bill also makes other modifications to Kansas human trafficking laws passed nearly a decade earlier.
In addition, it will establish a fund that will be financed with fines and forfeiture of property from those convicted of the sex crimes. The revenue will be used to pay for treatment and services for the victims of the crimes.
Most importantly, advocates say, the measure revolutionizes how the state talks about and views young children caught in the human sex trafficking trade.
"We now recognize these children as victims. These are survivors of a crime that has been perpetrated against them," said Dr. Karen Countryman-Roswurm, the Executive Director of Wichita State University's Center for Combating Human Trafficking. "So, what this legislation does is say these are no longer prostitutes, these are victims."
Dr. Roswurm says she's been waiting 15 years to see that kind of paradigm shift.
"I'm so proud of Kansas. I'm so proud of Wichita," Dr. Roswurm said.
She woke up at 4 a.m. Monday to drive from Wichita to Topeka because she said she just couldn't miss the law-signing ceremony.
She says this legislation is a big step in the right direction in the fight against human trafficking.
"As I was driving back home, 'I kept thinking, my children, my own children will go to bed a little bit safer," Dr. Roswurm said. "That's because this bill makes a statement that we do not allow the trafficking of children in our state."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.