When Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB2454 into law on April 22, she said, “This is a proud and significant day for Arizona, particularly for those who have been personally affected by the horrendous crime of human trafficking. There is much more work to be done in our fight to eliminate this atrocious modern-day slavery, but in signing this legislation and implementing critical measures, we take another good step forward in the right direction.”

The law, aimed at deterring human trafficking in Arizona, puts more penalties on human traffickers, with a particular emphasis on those who engage in child sex trafficking, including strengthening penalties for “johns” who engage in sex with child prostitutes and making it a class 2 felony to advertise a minor for prostitution when a picture of the minor is included in the advertising. It also adds child prostitution, sex trafficking and labor trafficking to the category of acts that constitute racketeering. 

“As it stands right now in Arizona [before the law takes effect], a man buys sex from a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old girl, and it’s treated as a slap on the wrist,” said Rabbi John Linder, senior rabbi at Temple Solel and a proponent of the law. “The law makes it a crime where the john will spend time in jail and can’t plead ignorance of the age of the girl, so it ends up being a serious deterrent. I think that’s the heart of this legislation.”

Early last month before the bill had been passed, 50 Arizona religious leaders, including Linder and eight other Valley rabbis, wrote a letter to the governor, State Senate President Andy Biggs and State House Speaker Andy Tobin, urging the passage of the bill that they said “will serve as a national model for both outstanding legislation addressing a critical need and effective bipartisan efforts in state legislatures across the United States. It will upend the current approach by putting the full burden on sexual predators who prey on the vulnerable and provides affirmative defense for children caught up in human sex trafficking as victims needing support. This legislation safeguards children and sends a clear message to those who prey on children that Arizona will not tolerate nor turn a blind eye to the abuse and trafficking of the most vulnerable.”

Rabbi Linder was among the religious leaders present when Brewer signed the bill, and he spoke to Jewish News about the significance of the new law and the effort to get it passed.

“This ended up being one of the short-list priorities for the Valley Interfaith Project,” he said (Solel was one of the first members of VIP, having joined in 1990). Brewer appointed the Governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking in April 2013, co-chaired by Cindy McCain and Gil Orrantia, the director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security. It submitted recommendations in September 2013 that became part of HB2454. This year, the governor created the Arizona Human Trafficking Council, again with McCain and Orrantia as co-chairs, to “develop a comprehensive and coordinated victims’ service plan; evaluate and report to the governor statewide data on human trafficking; promote greater collaboration with law enforcement, state agencies and the community-at-large; and raise public awareness about victims services, restitution and prevention.”

 VIP was part of a coalition that included, among others, The McCain Institute for International Leadership, the Arizona Foundation for Women, TRUST (Training and Resources United to Stop Trafficking) and the Arizona Interfaith Movement. VIP brought the message “to churches and synagogues around the Valley so that the issue was brought out of the shadows,” Rabbi Linder said.

Similar legislation had been introduced in the past few years, he said, “[That legislation] was either not heard at all or didn’t pass. I would say because there was not the political will around it.” This time around, “I would say the bill was leveraged by the high-profile Super Bowl that will be here in 2015.”

Human trafficking is not the smuggling of undocumented aliens, although trafficking victims often are transported. Trafficking is actually modern-day slavery that can involve various types of labor, including child prostitution. Arizona, because of its location and highway system, is a hub for human trafficking.

As TRUST explains on its website (trustaz.org), “Sex trafficking is a business, and for any business to survive, it requires supply and demand. In this case, there appears to be a growing demand fueled by easy access through the Internet, and a ready supply of underage girls that are constantly being recruited and exploited.”

Need to Know is an occasional column that looks behind the headlines. Contact the writer at sal_caputo@jewishaz.com


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