McDonnell Signs Law to Fight Human Trafficking; Raises Penalties, Drops Victim Testimany Rule

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Byline: Paige Winfield Cunningham, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sex traffickers in Virginia can now be prosecuted even if their victims don't testify against them under a new law signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday.

The law, contained in a package of legislation aimed to thwart human trafficking, expands penalties for sex traffickers by upgrading the offense to a class-two felony punishable by 20 years to life imprisonment and a fine up to $100,000. The law expands the definition of abduction to include commercial sexual activity involving minors, among other things.

Mr. McDonnell held a ceremonial signing of the legislation at Washington Dulles International Airport - an international hub that provides an entrance point to the United States for sex traffickers.

What we're talking about here is a vile and despicable offense for one person through drugs, extortion, forced fraud or some other means to exert an unconstitutional dominion over another person and force them to do things that are horrible and degrading and uncivil, Mr. McDonnell said. That's why this is so important.

Until now, sex traffickers have been prosecuted in Virginia under charge of abduction - which requires a victim willing to testify. But the nature of sex trafficking means that victims are often unwilling to speak out against the person who provides their only livelihood, said Loudoun County Sheriff Steve Simpson.

This is a situation where the only means of support they have is the person who brought them from some other country and sold them into slavery, Mr. Simpson said. They're not going to testify against the guy who's their bread and butter, so to speak.

Mr. Simpson said sex traffickers in Loudoun County have most often been found running massage parlors where the owner is licensed but workers are not. By the time law enforcement officers learn of illicit activity, the businesses have often vacated the building. He said he's seen an increase in those types of cases over the last few years.

We need to be able to interfere with that, Mr. Simpson said. We need to be able to charge the person who's running the outfit.

Co-sponsoring delegates Vivian E. Watts, Annandale Democrat, and Timothy D. Hugo, Clifton Republican, said the new law sends a no-tolerance message to sex traffickers.

It says to people who would abuse our children, who would traffic our children, you are not welcome in Virginia, Mr. …