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New anti-human trafficking laws go into effect Jan. 14

Michigan has shifted its focus in regards to prostitution away from targeting sex workers for arrest and prosecution. Many sex workers are in fact victims of crime rather than criminals themselves. Realizing the reality of human trafficking, a series of new laws taking effect this week emphasize helping exploited sex workers escape their situation.

In October, Gov. Rick Snyder signed 21 bills related to combating human trafficking in Michigan. Eighteen of them officially go into effect on Jan. 14. One new law increases the potential penalties for a human trafficking conviction. Another provides state protection for juvenile sex workers.

However, the Legislature did not include funding for shelters and other services, such as mental health treatment, for victims in its package of bills. Experts in human trafficking victim recovery say these services are vital, or victims might be too intimidated to testify against their traffickers. They may end up going back to sex work, groups like Shared Hope International say.

Other states, such as Minnesota, have spent millions of dollars for victim support services in recent years.

Still, these new laws represent an evolving understanding of the reality of prostitution in Michigan. They also mean that a person arrested and charged with human trafficking face more serious sentences than ever before. This legislative push to end human trafficking could catch a lot of people in law enforcement’s web, including those who are wrongfully accused or overcharged based on the evidence against them.

Sex crimes in general usually carry lengthy prison sentences, inclusion in the sex offender registry and other punishments if the defendant is convicted. It is vital that anyone accused of a sex crime have a defense attorney protecting their rights.

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