A new bill to fight human trafficking has begun moving through House committees of the General Assembly.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, March 13, unanimously approved House Bill 198, “Human Trafficking Commission Recommendations.” The bill’s primary sponsors are Reps. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; Sarah Stevens, R-Wilkes; Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson; and Jerry Carter, R-Rockingham.
The bill is packed with priorities.
Among other things, the legislation seeks to cut buyer demand by criminalizing sex tourism, “travel planned specifically for the purpose of sex, generally to a country where prostitution is legal.”
Anyone can sell flights, hotels, or other travel arrangements to people for the sake of soliciting prostitutes outside the U.S. — a gaping hole in the state’s anti-trafficking laws, said Ryan Boyce, senior counsel for policy at the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, who’s advising the human trafficking commission.
“You can go online and say, ‘Hey, come to Thailand and have sex with underage children for $500,” Boyce said. “I mean, whereas that actual activity is obviously illegal in the state, promoting the travel is not.”
In addition to criminalizing sex tourism, the bill expands the definition of sexual servitude to apply to all instances of buyer conduct. It also provides more expungement opportunities for trafficking survivors prosecuted for minor crimes and creates a civil cause of action for victims to recover damages from their traffickers.
The only offense that can be expunged under current state law is prostitution, Boyce said.
H.B. 198 is a critical next step in combating human trafficking in the state, Libby Coles, chairwoman of the N.C. Human Trafficking Commission told lawmakers.
H.B. 198 heads to the House Rules Committee.