OKLAHOMA CITY – After four years of work, legislation to crack down on criminals who kidnap and sell human beings has gained final legislative approval and simply awaits the governor’s signature to become law. House Bill 1021, by state Rep. Marian Cooksey, creates new penalties for anyone convicted of human trafficking “for forced labor or forced sexual exploitation” who relies on the “use of force, fraud or coercion” to trap victims.
“Human trafficking is the slave trade of the 21st Century,” said Cooksey, R-Edmond. “Anyone who holds another human being in slavery – for prostitution or forced labor or any other purpose – must pay a high price for their actions.”
Under the bill, those convicted of human trafficking will face at least five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000 for each conviction. Anyone convicted of human trafficking involving victims younger than age 14 will face at least 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $20,000. Those convicted of the crime could also be ordered to pay restitution to their victims and the bill allows law enforcement officials to seize trafficker’s property – including aircraft, vehicles and money – to help offset the state expenses of prosecution.
House Bill 1021 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 93-0 vote and passed the state Senate 45-0. It now awaits Gov. Brad Henry’s signature. “Internationally, human trafficking is the fast-growing crime outside of drug running,” Cooksey said. “It’s time we treated this crime and the thugs who perpetrate it with the severity it deserves.”
A September 2004 Human Rights Center report titled, “Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States,” found that at any given time more than 10,000 forced laborers are working in the United States. Most of them work in prostitution, domestic services, agriculture and sweatshops. The US Department of Justice estimates between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States each year.
In 2003, the Department of Justice reported the largest concentrations of trafficking survivors who received federal assistance resided in California, Texas, New York and Oklahoma.
In 2004, nine people in Oklahoma City were charged with running a child prostitution ring that involved human trafficking. Pimps transported girls as young as 13 from Oklahoma to cities in Texas, Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Arkansas for prostitution. The girls were recruited and controlled through threats, violence and intimidation.