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Coakley, other officials support human trafficking measure

Mass. law would follow 46 states

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / January 21, 2011

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Attorney General Martha Coakley and other local law enforcement authorities are backing a bill filed yesterday in the Legislature that would make human trafficking a crime in the Commonwealth, seeking to follow 46 other states that already have such laws.

“This has been a huge problem, facilitated by technology and websites,’’ Coakley said at a press conference yesterday at her Boston office. She was flanked by at least a dozen district attorneys, police chiefs, and legislators who support the measure.

“It has been under the radar,’’ Coakley said of the issue, “but it’s time to shine a spotlight on this crime.’’

Coakley said hundreds of thousands of young girls, and occasionally boys, from other countries and the United States are forced into prostitution and labor each year. Human trafficking is considered the second largest illegal industry, after the drug trade, and the fastest growing in the world, Coakley said.

If the bill becomes law, a conviction for trafficking for sexual servitude would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while trafficking for forced labor would be punishable by up to 15 years. It would impose higher penalties for those who exploit anyone under 18 and for people who pay for sex. The bill would also create a task force within the attorney general’s office to study human trafficking.

The task force would track the number of cases annually in the Commonwealth. While authorities say there are hundreds of cases each year, no single agency is in charge of keeping statistics, and police departments and district attorneys do not use standardized criteria.

“It’s problematic to track, because it takes some cooperation on the part of the person who is subjected, and they often are not willing to cooperate,’’ said Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

Audrey Porter — an assistant director at the My Life My Choice Project, a Boston-based agency focused on preventing the exploitation of girls — talked about her own experiences during the news conference, saying she was subjected to rape and beatings. She said she is a survivor of the commercial sex industry.

“When I was out there, I was visible, and the police did know who I was,’’ Porter said. “With the Internet . . . they [prostitutes] are put in hotels, and there is no way for anyone to find them.’’

State Senator Mark C. Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill, called human trafficking “modern day slavery, nothing less.’’ He said cases span from the wealthy suburbs to the inner city.

“One of the victims said to us, ‘It is actually a fate worse than death, because we have our spirit completely destroyed and then we have to go out and do it the next day,’ ’’ Montigny said.

Conley said his office works to provide support services for youths drawn into prostitution and prosecutes those who force them into the sex trade or who buy sex from young girls.

He cited the case of an Avon man convicted in 2007 of inducing a minor into prostitution and deriving support from prostitution. The man, Ryan Duntin, served three years in prison and is currently on probation.

“Had this bill been in effect when Ryan Duntin was before the court, it would have covered the 16-year-old girl he was trafficking,’’ Conley said.

The current law for sex for a fee with a child applies to victims 14 and under, whereas the proposed law would increase the age to 18, Conley said. If the proposed bill were law in 2007, prosecutors could have charged Duntin with human trafficking for sexual servitude.

The bill now goes to a legislative committee for consideration.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.