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Bill would take question of consent out of human-trafficking cases

Whether alleged victims of human trafficking consented to sexual acts would no longer be a question juries could consider under a bill approved by a state Senate committee Tuesday.

The members of the Senate Committee on Transportation, Public Safety, and Veterans and Military Affairs voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 492, which would make a series of changes generally meant to make Wisconsin law easier on victims of human trafficking and harder on perpetrators.

Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the nonprofit group End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, said questions of consent in these sorts of cases often do nothing more than confuse juries over what is a “metaphysical or philosophical” matter.

He said arguments over consent are particularly out of place when human trafficking is alleged to have been committed against minors, who are treated in other parts of the law as being incapable of consenting to sexual acts.

Senate Bill 492 also seeks to:

  • add to the list of threats that, if a person makes them to coerce someone into a performing a sexual act, can lead to a felony conviction for human trafficking. Among those added would be the threat of taking away access to illegal drugs.
  • allow victims of trafficking to have previous convictions for prostitution vacated and have records of the crime expunged.
  • add to the parts of a child’s anatomy that a person, if he or she causes the parts to be put on display for sexual gratification, can lead to a felony conviction.
  • allow evidence of other crimes – such as offences against children, sex offenses and domestic abuse – to be admitted in court in human-trafficking cases.
  • allow a person to be placed on lifetime supervision if convicted of a crime against reputation, privacy and civil liberties for sexual gratification.
  • adds the crime of strangulation to several places in Wisconsin statutes.

State Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, said the general purpose of the bill “is to cast a wider net on activities that may or may not fall under current law.”

SB 492 was the subject of both a public hearing and vote Tuesday, a sign that is on a fast track through the Legislature, which is scheduled to finish its current session at the end of March.

A companion to SB 492, Assembly Bill 620, is scheduled to receive a hearing before the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice at 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 300 Northeast of the state Capitol. For either bill to become law, it must be approved by the entire Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Police in Plymouth arrested two people Monday in what appears to be human trafficking case involving a 16-year-old girl, according to the Associated Press. Police were alerted to the situation when the girl was found wandering the area, confused, and reported she was being held against her will.

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]

Dan Shaw is the managing editor at the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

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