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Human Trafficking Bill Seeks To Hold Publishers Accountable

by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 19, 2012 2:00pm
(4) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Labor, Legal, Media Matters

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Unnamed victim of sex trafficking

(Updated 4:47 p.m.) The Judiciary Committee will hear testimony Monday on a bill that would make print and online publishers liable for felony charges if they run escort ads that turn out to be advertising minors.

The bill would make publishing escort ads a Class C felony, punishable with up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, if the ad could be proven to promote the sex trafficking of someone under 18.

At a Monday press conference, former House Speaker Jim Amann said the goal is to cut down on human trafficking within the state. With escort ads common in some newspapers and websites, Amann said pimps now have a safe business model.

“Today we live in a country where a person is more likely to serve time selling marijuana than to serve time selling a 14-year-old girl,” he said.

Amann said 300,000 minors are trafficked for sex every year across the U.S.

A former escort spoke in support of the legislation at the press conference. Though she wouldn’t give her name, she said human trafficking was common in the state.

“I am a victim of human trafficking who was sold through escort advertisements here in Connecticut,” she said. “What happened to me is not unique. It is happening right now to girls all over Connecticut through the blatant advertising in some of our most respected and well-read newspapers and websites.”

She said she was already 23 when she got involved with sex trafficking, but she encountered minors, including the girl who recruited her. She rejected the argument that prostitution was a victimless crime.

“No one sees what our pimps do to us. How they give us drugs to stay awake for days, feed us just enough to keep us skinny and looking young, tell us that making money for them by having sex with men is why we were put on this earth, and hit us for no reason,” she said.

People also don’t know how humiliating it is to be shopped for online or in newspapers like a “cheap gadget,” she said.

Rep. Jeffrey Berger, a Judiciary Committee member and former police officer, said he was “beyond shocked” by the scope and access to ads for escort services. The bill will target sex trafficking and its advertising components, he said.

Raymond Bechard, author of “The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in America,” said that only the state of Washington has passed a similar law. Bechard’s book examines the 2007 trial of Dennis Paris in Hartford Federal Court. Paris was convicted of sex trafficking two minors, one of them only 14.

Bechard said that prosecutors cited The Hartford Advocate over 60 times as Paris’s “exclusive channel” for selling girls.

“The Advocate’s escort section was the only thing Dennis Paris needed to find men willing to pay to have sex with his under-aged victims,” he said.

Despite the trial, escort ads are still common in the paper and online, he said, reading a few from this week’s Advocate. The bill would force publishers to verify the age of every escort they run an advertisement for, he said.

Amann, who wrote Connecticut’s law establishing a sex offender registry, said he was confident the bill would withstand First Amendment scrutiny.

“I don’t think the First Amendment is protecting women being sold on the Internet or in newspapers for sex. I’d really like to be involved in a Supreme Court debate on that one,” he said.

Amann said he hopes the bill will discourage publishers from running the ads.

“Aren’t they part of the pimping population if they’re involved in it?” he asked. “...If someone is making money off a young girl, who’s selling her body for sex, and they are well aware of it, what would you call them?”

Jennifer Humes, a spokeswoman for CT1 Media the media conglomerate that owns The Advocate, said the group is supportive of the committee’s efforts to combat the exploitation of minors. While CT1 Media will continue to work with lawmakers, she said there were problems with the bill.

“The current bill being offered by the committee, as-written, is problematic due to concerns of constitutionality, enforcement and the inability of newspaper publishers to comply,” she said in a statement.

Michael P. Lawlor, the governor’s undersecretary for criminal justice, wouldn’t comment on whether the bill was good policy but agreed it might be unconstitutional. It would be difficult to prove the criminal intent of publishers, he said.

“Typically for something to result in a criminal prosecution you have to prove that whoever you want to arrest, in this case the publisher, either knew or should have known that the end result of this was going to be some child would be used as a prostitute,” he said.

While lawmakers could make impose a small penalty, similar to the mandatory reporting statute, Lawlor said he doubted they could make it a felony.

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(4) Comments

posted by: Shared Hope International | March 21, 2012  9:24am

Shared Hope is proud to see Connecticut working on progressive legislation to criminalize facilitators of trafficking.  As mentioned in the article, Prostitution is not a victimless crime. A majority of women in prostitution report that they were first prostituted as a minor.
Of 854 women interviewed in nine countries, 64% were threatened with a weapon, 73% were physically assaulted, and 57% were raped during prostitution.

Shared Hope International exists to eradicate sex trafficking from the United States and the globe.  For more information, visit http://www.sharedhope.org/

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 21, 2012  1:27pm

GoatBoyPHD

The Courant tried to cover their tracks and divert attention from the ‘Vanity Fair’ article by saturation coverage of the Doctor George Reardon trial and were quite pointed in their decision to mention the Catholic Church as owner of St Francis in every article and in blogs all but called it a conspiracy with every Catholic in the state part and parcel of the cover up via innuendo.

Are major media blogs nothing more than infomercials with a big ‘for sale’ sign and not subject to journalistic standards? That was one of the unsavory parts of the Courant’s moral hypocrisy on the issue of child sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

As near as I can tell the Courant’s moral outrage stops at monetizing of sex trafficking of minors: then it’s a legitimate capitalist enterprise in need of legal protection under free press protection.

Of course I think CT1, the Trib, the Courant, The Advocate, and New Mass Media should be subject to full liability and be subject to the same statute of limitations law changes that the Courant so vociferously advocated.

The employees ESOP was part owner during the peeriod in question, etc.

Name the present employees as unindicted co-conspirators in a cover up. Why not?

CT’s legal profession needs some new liability targets.

As far as intent goes Lawlor suggests the Advocate never had responsibility to check its advertisers for fraud, arrests, complaints, and other activity related to the personals and promotion of criminal enterprises. Better yet the sister newspaper, The Courant, and her claims to be the leading investigative newspaper, defaulted as it would hurt revenue.

Next they will tell you that ‘massage parlors’ and ‘roses’ are legally protected speech.

The defense will be the 3 stooges defense or ‘speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil’.

Thankfully ‘Vanity Fair’ steps in to inform the Courant/Advocate conglomerate.

This is an old war. Time to end it. Hold them responsible for gross negligence.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 21, 2012  2:38pm

GoatBoyPHD

In the Reardon trial every witness who came forward and testified to Reardon’s character was challenged by the Courant’s staff in blogs where it was said in so many words “cover up.”

The hypocrisy is amazing:

http://tinyurl.com/773lvfm

As I said above, it seems that monetizing and enabling the sexual trafficking of minors is permissible in media circles.

Sue the pants off them.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 22, 2012  11:12am

GoatBoyPHD

This does call into question the decison to allow waivers in Hartford for Vertical and Horizontal Media conglomeration.

There’s a lengthy list of articles on the subject of the Tribs potential conflict of interest issues and single ownership of properties like WTXX (now WCCT), WTIC, the Advocate, The Courant, etc.

http://tinyurl.com/84syy9n

I don’t think this “See No Evil” Chinese wall between Trib affiliates and subsidiaries helps make the case for media conglomeration as value neutral and in keeping with the FCC’s ‘protecting the public interest’ mandate.