BOSTON (AP) — Despite gaining praise for cracking down on pimps and others found guilty of marketing children for sex or forced labor, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said the effect of a new anti-human trafficking law is hard to gauge because it’s still being implemented across the state.
Signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in late November, the new law establishes a criminal penalty for human trafficking for sexual servitude, punishable by at least five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000, and it imposes a life sentence for anyone found guilty of trafficking children for sex or forced labor, among other things. It also creates a trust fund for victims and establishes a ‘‘safe harbor’’ to protect sexually exploited children from being prosecuted for certain sex crimes. Previously, Massachusetts was one of only three states without specific anti-human trafficking laws.
But since the law took effect in February, state officials say it’s been hard to collect information on how many individuals have been arrested and charged under the statute, due to the number of jurisdictions involved.
Coakley, who pushed for such legislation, said also adding to the problem is that human trafficking is largely done underground. She said law enforcement officials and district attorneys are still learning how to implement pieces of the new statute, as well as identify cases that may involve forced sex or labor.
The attorney general said she believes human trafficking is a large problem in Massachusetts, especially since the emergence of the Internet, based on anecdotal evidence from district attorneys and her past experience working for the Child Abuse Unit in Middlesex County.
Coakley’s office has arrested and charged four individuals in connection with allegedly running a human sex trafficking operation in the Boston area.
‘‘Right now we’re really focusing on how we understand the extent of the problem,’’ she said. ‘‘Part of goal is to see what would be the next steps.’’
Anti-human trafficking advocates, however, have praised the state for addressing the issue, even if results of the statute have yet to been seen.
‘‘It doesn’t mean they’re done, using the laws is next important step,’’ said Mary Ellison, the director of policy at the Polaris Project, a Washington D.C.-based anti-human trafficking advocacy group.
In its 2012 annual report released Tuesday, the nonprofit Polaris Project ranks Massachusetts’ human trafficking laws among the top state anti-trafficking laws in the country, joining Texas, Minnesota and Washington.
The study analyzes state laws in 10 categories, like lowering the burden of proof and safe harboring for trafficked minors.