The state Senate gave final approval early Friday to a bill that significantly strengthens penalties for sex trafficking of minors.
The measure, which cleared both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously, seeks to attack the “demand side” of sex trafficking. It would create a new criminal category, “commercial sexual abuse of a minor,” and increase the penalty if the victim is under 15 from a Class C to a Class A felony, which is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
The legislation also broadens the definition of sex trafficking, defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, or provision of a person for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with another person for a fee.” And it increase the penalty for trafficking in persons from a class B to a class A felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison in line with federal law.
Advocates hailed the bill, which now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for consideration. “Passage of this bill sends an unequivocal message to those who pay to have sex with minors that Connecticut won’t stand for such abuse,” said Christine Palm, communications and women’s policy analyst for the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors.
The bill also offers more assistance to victims of human trafficking by directing state officials to develop a plan to provide mental health counseling, substance abuse and support programs.
“Victims of human trafficking face a lifetime of recovery from the trauma of the abuse they suffer at the hands of traffickers, and it is only right that the criminals who inflict that trauma face stiff penalties,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, a Killingly Democrat and a supporter of the proposal. “We have taken a strong stand by changing the penalty for patronizing a minor who is being sold for sex to a class A felony. We will not tolerate this type of abuse, and I am proud that this bill passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.”
Between 2008 and 2016, 634 children were referred to the state Department of Children and Families as possible victims of sex trafficking. And the number is growing: DCF received 133 unique referrals of suspected child sex trafficking victims in 2015; by 2016, the number increased to 202, according to the department.
In an effort to reach potential victims, the bill expands the types of businesses that must post signs with a hotline number to help people caught up in human trafficking. Now, service plazas, hotels, motels, adult entertainment businesses must post such signs. The bill requires massage parlors, nail salons, hospital emergency rooms, bus and train stations and airports to also comply.
The Senate also gave final legislative approval to a bill that updates the state’s domestic violence laws by amending criminal statute governing stalking to include social media, telephone and other forms of harassment, tracking and intimidation. It also includes stiffer penalties for stalking.
“It is incredibly important that we ensure that victims of domestic violence feel as safe and secure as possible when they make the decision to leave a dangerous and abusive relationship, and it is equally important that there are protections in place for that victim after the fact,” Flexer said.
This bill also goes to Malloy for consideration.
The state Senate unanimously approved a bill early Friday that would require the electronic monitoring of individuals awaiting sentencing for aggravated sexual assault.
Senate Bill 1041, which now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration, would require courts to impose electronic monitoring by a GPS device as a condition of release for anyone convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a minor or first-degree sexual assault.
“This is good law and order legislation that protects victims of one of the worst crimes we have in our state,” said Sen. John Kissel, co-chairman of the legislature’s judiciary committee.
Kissel acknowledged that measure would only apply to a small number of people who were convicted of a crime but are wealthy enough to post a bond to secure their freedom while awaiting sentencing.