By Kate Miller
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — General Assembly members have introduced multiple anti-human trafficking bills for the current legislative session.
Del. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, introduced HB 994 and SB 453 — legislation which would create a human trafficking stand-alone offense in Virginia. The term “human trafficking” currently is not defined by Virginia law.
Obenshain says this legislation would help Virginia law enforcement officers who struggle to find remedies to human trafficking. “We have put together a comprehensive human trafficking statute,” Obenshain said, “to give law enforcement the tools necessary to address these offenses in a comprehensive way.”
Obenshain says Virginia is one of only two states that do not have a comprehensive human trafficking statute.
The Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI), a local faith-based, anti-human trafficking nonprofit organization, is advocating for the passage of HB 994 and SB 453.
RJI held its annual Lobby Day this past week at the General Assembly. During the Lobby Day, a group of about 45 RJI volunteers met with legislative representatives to advocate for the bills.
An anti-human trafficking press conference with bipartisan legislators was held in association with RJI and featured Obenshain, Comstock, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria; Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville; Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax; Del. Watts, D-Annandale and Del. Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church.
Hugo says human trafficking is an important issue to both political parties. “It’s a family issue,” Hugo said. “It’s a human issue . . . and I don’t think partisanship has a role to play in this.”
Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, introduced HB 767, which would allow property used in connection with certain human trafficking crimes to be subject to forfeiture to the state. Bulova says the bill is meant to combat the profit motive for traffickers.
“Law enforcement can take away [human trafficker] assets,” he said. “So that under no circumstances will anybody ever be able to profit from this absolutely terrible crime.”
According to Bulova, immediate assets used in connection with trafficking as well as any profits or interest derived from those assets would be subject to forfeiture.
Bulova says HB 660 and HB 1155 — other proposed bills dealing with asset forfeiture for human trafficking — would essentially have the same effect as HB 767. “The idea is to take the best from all of the versions [of the bill], bring them into one [legislative effort] and ensure that we’re going to the Courts of Justice Committee with a united front,” Bulova said.
Obenshain and Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, introduced SB 454 and HB 235. These measures would add individuals who solicit sex from a minor to the Sex Offender Registry.
“This crime would not exist if it weren’t for the demand for it,” Bell said. “Fewer women will be trafficked if we can have fewer men who are trying to have relations with them through prostitution.”
Hugo introduced HB 485, which would add certain prostitution and abduction offenses as crimes for which attorneys may issue administrative subpoenas to obtain records for criminal investigations.
It is important to focus on electronic communication in the fight against human trafficking, said Hugo, who also introduced HB 486, which would would require people currently mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect to also report suspected trafficking of children.
“The street has now been replaced by the online world,” Hugo said. he added such legislation has not been passed yet because of lack of awareness of the issue of human trafficking.
“I don’t think there’s any evil . . . on anybody’s mind,” Hugo said. “It’s just people haven’t thought that some people are that bad that they would try to do this to young children.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.