MONTGOMERY - Governor Bob Riley on Friday marked the passage of a new state law against human trafficking that supporters say will lead to more prosecutions of what is considered modern-day slavery.
Governor Riley was joined by legislators and other bill supporters at the State Capitol for a ceremonial signing of the act that makes human trafficking a felony in Alabama.
Human trafficking occurs when people are forced into involuntary servitude through violence or threats, often as prostitutes or laborers. Alabama has seen several high-profile cases of human trafficking in recent years. Now, with a state law making human trafficking a felony, state and local law enforcement officers -- and not just the FBI -- are able to investigate the crime in the state.
“We cannot be fooled into thinking this crime happens only in other places. It’s happening right here in Alabama,” said Governor Riley. “This new law gives our law enforcement officers another way to protect people.”
The new law brings Alabama in line with 44 other states that criminalize human trafficking. It goes into effect on July 1.
In addition to criminalizing human trafficking, the new law provides mandatory restitution for victims and gives them a means to bring civil cases against traffickers.
“This is the most comprehensive law against human trafficking in the entire nation. We went from having no law to having one that is considered a model for the rest of the nation,” said Representative Jack Williams, a sponsor of the bill in the Legislature.
Volunteers with the Birmingham-based group Freedom to Thrive joined Governor Riley, Representative Williams, and bill co-sponsors Representative Merika Coleman and Senator Wendell Mitchell, at the bill signing ceremony on Friday. The non-profit group works to raise awareness and eliminate human trafficking in the state.
Here are examples of recent human trafficking cases in Alabama that were in federal court, as reported by the Birmingham News in February 2010:
• A federal grand jury in Birmingham indicted a Florence man in December 2009 on charges of coercing a minor to engage in prostitution and harboring an illegal immigrant.
• Three Kansas City-area companies and 12 people were accused in a federal indictment last year of operating a nationwide human trafficking and racketeering scheme that involved fraudulent labor contracts in 14 states, including Alabama.
• Police in 2007 raided a prostitution ring in Albertville that authorities claimed was forcing women from Latin American countries into prostitution.