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February 3, 2014

State officials press for tougher laws to combat human trafficking

NORMAN — A 15-year-old girl was working as a prostitute in Tulsa in September when she was arrested during a prostitution sting operation.

She had become a prostitute at a younger age because she saw the practice as a way to get money and attention from men, a state law-enforcement official said.

The girl, who was taken to a Tulsa shelter, is a victim of a crime — human trafficking – that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, legislators and others are trying to crack down on further.

This legislative session,

lawmakers have introduced about a dozen bills that were drafted by the Bureau of Narcotics. Among other things, they would raise the statute of limitations, increase prison time for human trafficking and require those convicted of human trafficking to register as sex offenders.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt also has formed a working group to share intelligence on human trafficking. The group, composed of officials from various state, local and federal criminal-justice agencies, met for the first time on Thursday.

Human trafficking is a broad term that covers a range of activities, but generally involves use of force, fraud or oppression to keep someone in a labor or service situation. Examples are minors being forced into prostitution and adults who are forced to work off a debt in a massage parlor. Trafficking doesn’t refer necessarily to transporting of victims, but to exploiting them criminally for personal gain.

Bills introduced by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow and Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa would establish a 12-year statute of limitations for human trafficking.

Bills offered by Crain, Newberry and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City would require human traffickers to serve 85 percent of their prison sentences. Bills from Newberry, Crain and Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa would mandate the sex-offender registration.

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