A Republican-backed bill that would strengthen Wisconsin’s human trafficking laws and expunge a victim’s record if they were incorrectly convicted of prostitution is quickly gaining support in advance of the start of next Tuesday’s legislative session.
The bill, written with Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and sponsored by Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, had received 20 co-sponsors by Wednesday afternoon, a day after circulation began for supporters. The bill will be circulated until 2 p.m. Friday, Loudenbeck said.
Loudenbeck said she is encouraged by the initial support and would like the bill to be sent to the Senate's Transportation, Public Safety, and Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, chaired by Petrowski, in time for it to be moved along to the full Legislature for a vote before the end of the session in March.
Loudenback said the bill addresses trafficking issues related to minors and provides additional rights and support networks for victims. She said a significant component of the bill is how it treats the women, men and children who are the victims of criminal trafficking.
Allowing victims to come forward who were wrongly convicted of prostitution charges is a key example of this shift in prosecuting the crimes.
“We need to revisit and revise how we treat the victims,” she said. “I think there are past prostitution convictions that were really cases of human trafficking.”
The bill would expand and clarify criminal trafficking to include labor services and commercial sex acts when victims are taken by force, fraud or coercion, she said.
This is the second time Van Hollen, who has made human trafficking a priority during his time in office, and Loudenbeck have worked together to pass a human trafficking bill. The previous bill passed in 2011 and strengthened tools for law enforcement and provided access to a victim’s compensation funds.
In September, Van Hollen’s office released a study titled "A baseline assessment for human trafficking in the state of Wisconsin." The report was based on surveys completed by law enforcement agencies across the state. The majority of survey respondents agreed that human trafficking in Wisconsin “happens sometimes” or “happens often,” with seven percent indicating that it occurs “all the time.”
The first bill recognizing illegal human trafficking activity in Wisconsin was co-authored by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, Rep. Fred Kessler, D- Milwaukee, and two former lawmakers, Loudenbeck said. That bill became law in 2007.