April 18, 2023
The Texas state legislature is currently considering two bills that aim to address human trafficking in the state. The first is House Bill 1136, which seeks to create parity in the penalties for compelling prostitution and trafficking. Currently, the penalty for trafficking is a lifetime registration on the sex offender registry whether the victim is a minor or adult, while the penalty for compelling prostitution is just a 10-year registration on the sex offender registry if the victim is over the age of 18. The proposed bill would make a sentence of compelling prostitution punishable by a lifetime registration, regardless of the age of the victim.
The second bill, House Bill 327, proposes an affirmative defense for duress for individuals who commit crimes while being trafficked. This bill seeks to ensure that trafficking victims are not punished for crimes committed under duress, such as theft or prostitution.
So what is the synergy between these two pieces of legislation? The bills work together to address different aspects of the problem of human trafficking. House Bill 1136 gives prosecutors more tools to use against traffickers, while House Bill 327 provides protections for victims who may be caught up in the criminal justice system — an important balance to strike as we seek to prosecute perpetrators and protect survivors.
The bills have the support of anti-trafficking advocates like Rhona Kuykendall, an anti-child trafficking consultant at Texas CASA. Kuykendall notes that there are more adult trafficking victims than child victims, and that a focus on child victims alone leaves a large population vulnerable to exploitation. She also notes that many trafficking victims are seen as criminals and that House Bill 327's affirmative defense for duress would help to address this problem.
While the bills are still being considered by the Texas state legislature, they represent an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking in the state. By creating parity in the penalties for trafficking and compelling prostitution, and by providing protections for victims who are caught up in the criminal justice system, the bills seek to ensure that those who are responsible for trafficking are held accountable, while also providing support for those who have been victimized by this terrible crime.
At the time of publication, this bill still needs a hearing in the criminal jurisprudence committee. To let your representatives know you believe this bill is a priority, contact the members of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and let them know that you support HB 1136.