AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine has been given an F by a national advocacy group for its laws dealing with sex trafficking of minors. One lawmaker says he will try to address some of the concerns of the group in legislation that will be considered in January.
“Each state’s laws show omissions in protective provisions for child victims and lack strong laws to prosecute the men who rent the bodies of other men’s children,” said Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International. “Early in our research it was clear that responses to child sex trafficking must originate at the state level.”
The group released a report earlier this month that included a 39-page summary and analysis of Maine laws dealing with sex trafficking. The “Protected Innocence Initiative” criticizes the state for not having specific crimes on the books dealing with trafficking in children for sex. It also suggests the penalties that are on the law books should be strengthened.
The report found that Maine is only one of four states that does not have a specific human trafficking law and one of 10 states that does not have a specific sex trafficking law.
“Until I reviewed this I had forgot that we did not have a specific law on sex trafficking,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, in an interview. He is the sponsor of an omnibus bill this session to deal with sex offenses. “I think it is time for this to be dealt with by the committee and the full legislature.”
A past co-chairman of the legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee, Diamond has successfully sponsored several bills dealing with child sex crimes including increased penalties for possession of child pornography.
“I think we can include a number of their concerns in my bill, including sex trafficking,” he said. “We have to get serious; we are talking about children being used by adults as prostitutes. We have to do more — all that we can — to fight this.”
Attorney General William Schneider said he had not seen the analysis of Maine’s sex trafficking laws, but said the state should consider whether Maine should make trafficking in child sex a separate crime with tough penalties.
“Something with the distinctive character like sex trafficking probably deserves to have its own statute under criminal law to make the specifics of that activity a crime,” he said.
Schneider said there have been sex trafficking cases in Maine and some have been prosecuted under federal law by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including a recent case based in Lisbon Falls.
“It is a terrible problem and one that has the attention of state attorneys general across the country,” he said.
Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, is the co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. He said the committee has dealt with many changes in sex crimes over the last several years. He said he will want comments from the District Attorney’s on their use of other statues as a substitute for a specific sex trafficking law.
“I don’t like to pass new laws unless we really need to have them,” he said. “I can’t say now whether it is needed or not and we will need to talk with prosecutors about whether they need another law.”
Plummer said increasing penalties may be warranted, but the committee will want to carefully weigh penalties in this area with other criminal penalties already in law. He said there is a cost to lengthy jail sentences, and tougher penalties will mean increased corrections cost.
“Right now Maine has several examples where they are much too lenient,” Diamond said. “I am actually an advocate for increasing our penalties to come in line with those at the federal level.”
Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, is the lead democrat on the panel and a former co-chair. She said the study deserves a close look by the panel and she believes lawmakers should consider establishing a specific crime of sex trafficking.
“We took kidnapping off the sex offender registry list,” she said. “If prosecutors are using that because we do not have a sex trafficking statute, we are missing some people who should be on the sex offenders list.”
Both Plummer and Haskell said they expect the issues raised by the study will be considered by lawmakers because of Diamond’s bill and those measures carried over from the first session of the legislature.