Schuette praises unanimous passage of “Safe Harbor” legislation

LANSING — Attorney General Bill Schuette today praised the Michigan House for passing key legislation that will strengthen legal protections for human trafficking victims. A Safe Harbor provision will ensure minor victims are treated as victims in need of services, not criminals. The Safe Harbor bills were a major legislative recommendation by the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.

The House also passed a resolution approving Schuette’s call for congressional action to amend the Federal Communications Decency Act to prohibit human traffickers from exploiting victims through online classified ad sites.  The resolution was also a recommendation from the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking. The legislation heads to the Senate next for consideration.

“A child forced to have sex is a victim, not a criminal,” said Schuette. “This victim-centered Safe Harbor legislation ensures young survivors are treated with care—a key recommendation from the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.”

Safe Harbor Legislation – HB 5026, HB 5012

Safe Harbor laws provide children sold for sex the services they need to escape their enslavement, recover from their exploitation, and avoid the stigma of a prostitution conviction.  Such laws shield victims from criminal prosecution for crimes that they were forced by their traffickers to commit

HB 5012, introduced by Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake Township), creates a presumption that a minor found engaging in prostitution is a victim of human trafficking and mandates law enforcement refer the minor victims for appropriate treatment within the Department of Human Services.

“This Safe Harbor legislation is nothing short of a sea change as to how we view those caught up in human trafficking,” said Rep. Kowall.  “These bills will provide victims with the tools to begin rebuilding their lives and hope for a brighter future.”

HB 5026, introduced by Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth), provides minor sex trafficking victims Safe Harbor by ensuring the Michigan Department of Human Services has the jurisdiction to treat minors as victims and not delinquents when they are in danger of substantial physical or psychological harm. HB 5026 and HB 5012 were tie-barred together.

“The passage of Safe Harbor legislation is one of the great achievements of the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking, thanks in large part to the hard work of Representaitve Kowall, and these bills show that we are serious about fighting human trafficking and treating victims with compassion,” said Heise.

HR 244, introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), approves Schuette’s call urging Congress to amend the Federal Communications Decency Act to prohibit online classified advertising services from profiting from human trafficking.  HR 244 passed the House with a voice vote.

“Our state is finally moving in an aggressive direction in addressing the growing problem of human trafficking,” said Tlaib. “These bills gives our prosecutors and law enforcement the tools they need to hold these criminals accountable. We also made sure to increase access to services for victims.”

HB 4867, introduced by Rep. Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt Township), amends sentencing guidelines to prevent criminals who exploit children in cases where the “child” was actually an undercover officer from escaping the tougher sentence imposed on criminals who endanger actual children. HB 4867 passed the House with a 106-2 vote.

“As a former prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the need to protect our most vulnerable citizens.  HB 4867 is one more tool that gives law enforcement the ability to protect them,” said Leonard.

HB 4021, introduced by Rep. George Darany (D-Dearborn), will expand list of intent for kidnapping to include knowingly restraining a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation. HB 4021 passed the House unanimously.

“Without the passage of this bill, it will remain possible for individuals to abduct children for the purpose of producing child pornography without the severe penalties that follow a kidnapping indictment,” Darany said.

 “I applaud Representatives Heise, Kowall, Leonard, Tlaib, and Darany for their hard work and efforts to ensure young victims of human trafficking are given the compassionate care they so desperately need,” said Schuette.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery and it is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world, after drug trafficking.

Victims of human trafficking are in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, solely for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation.  Children are especially vulnerable, and existing data sources strongly suggest that the current reported human trafficking statistics do not provide a complete picture of the prevalence of human trafficking in Michigan.  This Commission already identified 312 confirmed victims by surveying a limited group of service providers.  Coupled with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Division’s 2011 report of 29 human trafficking cases in Michigan and the FBI’s recovery of ten children in “Operation Cross Country” in July 2013, the Commission’s Report puts forth strong evidence that human trafficking is underreported in Michigan.

 Upon taking office in 2011, Schuette launched the state’s first Human Trafficking Unit in the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute human traffickers under state law.  Since then, Schuette’s Human Trafficking Unit has arrested nine individuals on human trafficking charges, secured seven human trafficking convictions, with cases against one additional defendant currently pending.

Schuette served as one of ten attorneys general nationwide selected to lead the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Presidential Initiative on Combating Human Trafficking, called Pillars of Hope.  Schuette is working closely with his colleagues to craft a coordinated national strategy to combat human trafficking, including efforts to prosecute offenders, assist victims, analyze the impact of this crime and raise public awareness nationwide.

In early November 2013, Schuette and Heise unveiled the 2013 Report on Human Trafficking by the first Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.  The Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking met for more than six months, beginning in March of 2013.  Commission members held more than 60 meetings and met with countless stakeholders, including: victims, law enforcement, legislators, victim advocates and service providers, academicians, and national experts.

The Commission conducted a formal review of the following five areas:

1)      Data Collection – Reviewed strategies to collect statewide data so policymakers and law enforcement can assess progress in their efforts to tackle this growing crime.

2)      Victim Services – Reviewed victim needs and determined how those needs can best be met at the local and state level, including how to coordinate private and public sector assistance.

3)      Professional Training – Reviewed existing training efforts and determined how they can be enhanced and expanded.  “Professional” is broadly defined to include various groups who may encounter human trafficking:  law enforcement, health care providers, social service providers, hospitality providers and those in code enforcement and regulatory agencies.

4)      Raising Public Awareness – Developed strategies to raise public consciousness and awareness of the crime of human trafficking.

5)      Legislation and Policy – Reviewed the current legal framework governing human trafficking and determined whether new legislation or policy changes are required.

“I pledge my full support toward implementing this action agenda presented by the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking.  We must pass legislation to improve our ability to bring traffickers to justice and to rescue and provide for victims’ needs.  We must raise public awareness about this crime and engage our local communities in the effort to combat it. And every step we take must revolve around a victim-centered approach, one that honors, loves and respects the children, women and men exploited through this terrible crime,” said Schuette.

After more than six months of review, the Commission developed wide-ranging recommendations as an action-oriented agenda for policymakers.  The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Strengthening Legal Protections for Human Trafficking Victims – The Commission calls for the passage of a Safe Harbor law to ensure minor victims are treated as victims in need of services, not criminals.
  • Expanding Real Assistance for Human Trafficking Victims – The Commission recommends expanding housing for trafficking victims who have nowhere to turn after being rescued from their trafficker.
  • Toughening Laws to Target Traffickers and “Johns” – The Commission recommends increasing penalties for “johns” who solicit sex from 16 and 17 year-olds from a misdemeanor to a felony.  The Commission also recommends strengthening state forfeiture laws to reduce trafficker’s ability to profit from the exploitation of children, women and men.
  • Increasing Public Awareness – The Commission recommends a statewide public awareness campaign and human trafficking poster law to elevate the discussion and awareness that human trafficking happens in the Great Lakes State.
  • Tracking Our Progress – The Commission recommends the implementation of a standard, comprehensive method for capturing human trafficking data from entities that interact with trafficking victims.

The 2013 Report on Human Trafficking is available for download online at