- June 25, 2022
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Sexual Assault & Trafficking
Whether you’ve been casually following the story of bill SB-461, or you’re just now hearing about it being signed into law, you might be wondering how human trafficking could ever have been considered anything but a serious crime.
Using force, deception, or other methods to coerce people into providing commercial sex or other unregulated labor is an obvious violation of human rights. The human trafficking industry ruins lives, and the fight to eliminate it has passionate bipartisan support here in Georgia.
So, why was its status as a serious crime ever in question?
Well, the short answer is that a “serious crime” isn’t really a hard-and-fast category of offenses.
In some contexts, the term is synonymous with “felony.” In others, it includes only certain violent felonies, and in still others, it may include some misdemeanors as well.
Pieces of legislation governing how serious crimes are to be handled often include built-in lists, specifying exactly which crimes they apply to. The lack of a standardized list allows for more flexibility in addressing different kinds of serious crime. Unfortunately, it also means that these individual lists aren’t always thorough, and may need updates and modifications.
The Latest Change to Human Trafficking Law Restricts Bail for Offenders
The new bill, SB-461, specifically modifies Georgia code 17-6-1, which has to do with which offenders qualify for bail.
Under the old version of 17-6-1, suspects charged with kidnapping, rape, or aggravated sexual battery already needed special approval from a superior court judge to qualify for bail. Many people who are arrested for human trafficking are charged with one of these offenses as well, but not all.
Now, thanks to SB-461, suspects charged with human trafficking are automatically subject to the same bail restrictions, regardless of any other charges.
This Change Makes It Harder for Suspected Human Traffickers to Continue Operating
Whenever a law changes, the big question is, what practical effect will the change have on people’s lives?
SB-461 doesn’t change anything about the legal definition of human trafficking or the sentences for it, but it does change how easily suspected traffickers can resume business as usual. Georgia’s First Lady, Marty Kemp, who championed the bill, has stated that some human traffickers were previously able to return to victimizing people within hours of being arrested.
Restricting bail for suspected traffickers not only makes it harder for them to flee the charges against them; it disrupts their business model. Most human trafficking activities involve exerting close social control over victims. The longer perpetrators are out of contact with their victims, the better chance the victims have of escaping and recovering.
Catching Individual Traffickers Is Only Part of the Fight
Like any adjustment to criminal law, SB-461 won’t do much to help the survivors who have already escaped active trafficking, but are struggling to rebuild their lives. It also won’t upend the human trafficking industry all by itself.
The problem is that most individuals who are arrested for human trafficking don’t have much power beyond the force or manipulation they use to control their direct victims. They’re low-level criminals who are easily replaced and don’t keep enough of their revenue to be able to reimburse victims, even when ordered to in court.
Often, the best-funded and most indispensable conspirators in human trafficking are actually legitimate-seeming businesses, such as hotels that quietly harbor sex trafficking transactions.
The Stoddard Firm helps human trafficking survivors collect the compensation they need, while disrupting trafficking on a higher level, by suing hotels and other complicit business. Georgia law even allows sex trafficking survivors to pursue these cases anonymously, to avoid stigma and retaliation.
If you have ever been trafficked and are interested in pursuing civil justice, reach out any time to learn more about your options.