Snyder signs anti-human trafficking laws

David Eggert
Associated Press

Troy – — Gov. Rick Snyder signed anti-human trafficking laws Thursday designed to shield young victims from prosecution in Michigan, give them treatment and crack down on criminals involved in the illegal sex trade.

Politicians, advocates and victims said the 21-bill package is among the country’s toughest. Snyder’s signatures capped at least two years of work to update human trafficking laws, with many of the measures stemming from recommendations made by the state’s first human trafficking commission.

“This law … is morally right. It is a gift that we are giving all women and victims of human trafficking by saying, ‘We care and how can we help you?’ ” said Theresa Flores, an Ohio woman and trafficking victim who wrote a book about how she was raped as a teen in a Detroit suburb and later blackmailed and forced to have sex with hundreds of men.

One tenet behind the laws is that prostitutes should be treated as victims, not criminals.

The measures allow victims’ convictions to be set aside, legally presume minors with prostitution offenses were coerced into it and ensure victims have access to medical, psychological and other services. State caseworkers will be required to report abuse and neglect cases involving trafficking to police, and health workers will be trained to identify potential victims.

It is “changing the dynamic so someone that’s been trafficked doesn’t feel like they’re a criminal, that they’re actually a survivor of this,” Snyder said after signing the legislation at Walsh College in Troy, where he also held an event highlighting successful businesswoman and other female leaders.

Another push is targeting traffickers.

The laws extend the statute of limitations for trafficking offenses, stiffen criminal penalties for pimps and people who pay money for sex, and classify the restraint of a minor for producing child porn as kidnapping. Those soliciting sex from minors will be added to Michigan’s sex offender registry.

One measure establishes a permanent anti-trafficking commission within the attorney general’s office. Attorney General Bill Schuette co-chaired the temporary commission, which identified more than 300 victims but said the problem was underreported.

Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who helped push the bills through the Legislature, encouraged people to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline if they suspect trafficking.

“You never know when you’re going to run across something. Trust your instincts. Trust your gut,” she said.

Authorities say Michigan’s international borders and waterways facilitate human trafficking.