LINCOLN — She told a Council Bluffs jury how the pimp lashed her with a belt for falling asleep when she was supposed to be working as a prostitute.
Her testimony helped convict the pimp, a 28-year-old New Jersey man, late last year for running a sex trafficking operation that spanned 13 states, including Iowa and Nebraska. He now awaits a possible life sentence in federal prison.
Under a bill heard Wednesday by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, victims of sex trafficking could help punish their former captors without having to take the witness stand.
Legislative Bill 255 contains multiple provisions intended to crack down on sex traffickers, including one allowing judges to admit prior victim statements as evidence if the victim has been threatened not to testify.
Those combating the industry say traffickers use threats of violence against women and their families to keep them in the sex trade and to keep them quiet.
“This is a real-world problem, and this strikes me as a real-world solution,” said Hall County Attorney Mark Young, supporting the bill on behalf of the Nebraska County Attorneys Association.
He was one of 11 people and organizations to testify in support of the bill.
Young's counterpart with the Nebraska Criminal Defense Attorneys Association objected, saying the bill violates a defendant's constitutional right to confront his accuser.
“As drafted, you would in short order find convictions on appeal, and you would negate the good the legislation attempted to accomplish,” said Denise Frost, an Omaha lawyer who testified for the association.
The hearing once again focused lawmakers' attention on a shadowy, poorly understood criminal enterprise that turns young women, girls and boys into sex slaves. Introduced by State Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln, the bill also would:
» Increase penalties for pandering, solicitation, keeping a place of prostitution and debauchery of a minor.
» Publish the names of those convicted of soliciting prostitution on a public website, because advocates say “johns” fear publicity more than fines or jail time.
» Provide immunity from prosecution for minors who are forced into the sex trade and allow adults an affirmative defense against a prostitution charge if they were forced into the activity by a trafficker.
The Judiciary Committee also heard testimony on Legislative Bill 314, which would establish regulations on escort services, including fee-based permits for the businesses and written contracts containing the names and addresses of customers.
Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial introduced the bill, saying many law enforcement authorities believe the businesses are fronts for prostitution.
No one from the escort service industry testified against the measure.
The Legislature passed a bill last year that established a task force to investigate the extent of human trafficking in Nebraska.
The task force began its work last fall and has not yet been able to compile hard facts and figures, McGill said, but the problem is more common than anyone wants to admit.
Khloe Keeler, a journalism graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said studies have shown that many prostitutes are forced into the trade between the ages of 11 and 14.
And it is estimated that up to 300,000 people are victimized by human trafficking in the United States.
Among organizations that testified in support of the bills were the Nebraska Family Council, the Nebraska Catholic Conference, Amnesty International, the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, the Latino American Commission and the Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition.
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