Legislation to fight sex trafficking signed into law

PIERRE, S.D. — A measure that would more broadly define methods used to coerce victims into human trafficking has been signed into law.

Gov. Kristi Noem approved House Bill 1198 on Tuesday. The bill passed through the House and Senate without a single vote against it.

According to proponents of the legislation, it’s become evident that the prior law did not do enough to define many of the techniques used by traffickers to pressure their victims into prostitution.

“Working with victims and local law enforcement these past years, we have seen a trend used by traffickers which is difficult to prove based on the current definition, or lack of definition of coercion,” said Becky Rasmussen, the executive director of Call to Freedom, an organization that helps victims of sex trafficking during a legislative hearing on the bill. “That is why we are here today. To strengthen the definition so that traffickers should not have the ability to victimize more individuals in our great state.”

Rep. Doug Barthel, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, says the new law will also lead to less victim-blaming, and will make it clearer that traffickers are the ones directly responsible for the majority of cases involving prostitution.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we thought of prostitution as a victimless crime. You know, it was, basically a person that wanted to sell their body, or sell sex, and they did that all on their own and had total control of that,” said Barthel during the hearing. “A few years ago, thankfully, we realized that isn’t the case. That, as a matter of fact, they are the victims in nearly all of these cases.”

Additionally, Barthel says that the new law will discourage traffickers from operating in South Dakota. “We’ll set a good example to others across the country … that this is not a good place to come and set up your business.”

After signing the bill, Gov. Kristi Noem released a statement supporting the new legislation, but added that more still needs to be done.

“South Dakota is not immune from the horrors of sex trafficking,” said Noem. “For years, those who buy and sell people for sex have been able to hide behind technical jargon to get away with their heinous actions. The legislation I signed today clearly defines coercion and will help us prosecute human trafficking in South Dakota. Our work isn’t done until this evil industry is gone for good, but this is a step in the right direction.”

The new law also addresses victims of forced labor and involuntary servitude.

Categories: Local News, Politics & Elections, South Dakota News