MARYLAND (WDVM) — Human trafficking is one step closer to officially being recognized as a “crime of violence” in Maryland. In a recent legislative session, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan made “felony human trafficking” a crime of violence, going into effect October 1, 2019.
The laws in Maryland on human trafficking prior to October 1 focused on prosecuting the businesses that foster trafficking rather than the people who are doing the trafficking. Some argued that not enough is being done to fill the holes and gaps that fuel the act of this crime.
“We have to recognize that human trafficking is modern day slavery,” U.S. Senator Ben Cardin said, (D-MD).
Officials from the Maryland Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention say human trafficking is a felony crime. According to Laurie Culkin, the director of anti-human trafficking policy for the governor’s office, suspects can face up to 25 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“On top of human trafficking when it comes to felony prevision on the force front of coercion, if anyone is tracking a minor it’s instantly a felony,” Culkin said. “There will be harsher penalties for those who have been convicted of human trafficking to keep our communities safer.”
Senator Cardin and Senator Chris Van Hollen said a big part of this nationwide issue is education. They say all victims including those that are being lured into the United States, should remain as victims, not criminals.
“Those that are victims of trafficking, are victims and they need to be treated by our laws as victims as any other victim of a crime would be treated. those that are involved in trafficking, they need to be arrested and taken off the streets,” Cardin said.
In Maryland, senate bill 454 and 818 were passed in 2014. Both address ways to combat this issue. To this day in 2019, there are different avenues that human traffickers take, that keep victims stuck in the trafficking world. Cardin says it all comes back to being able to identify criminal elements.
“We were the first country to pass the trafficking and persons law where we rate every country in the world on how well they are doing to combat trafficking, and if they are not doing well, over a couple of years they are penalized.”
Van Hollen said while working closely with the Justice Department, actions need to be taken locally.
“Provide federal resources, to what’s called the safe center at the University of Maryland which has the specific purpose of trying to break up human trafficking rings and provide support for victims of human trafficking,” Van Hollen said.
While efforts are being made to stop human trafficking through the law, officials say it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of the criminal mind, but they will continue to do so.
“We constantly need to be improving, ending our approach to end human trafficking because human traffickers try to change their approach as law enforcement changes its approach,” Van Hollen said.
Locally, Frederick County Council in Maryland passed a local bill this year that requires employees of lodging establishments to complete a human trafficking training program by November first of this year.