State Rep. Wendy McNamara authors bill to protect young human trafficking victims.

State Rep. Wendy McNamara (R-Evansville) in the 2022 legislative session will continue her fight to protect young human trafficking victims and strengthen criminal penalties against perpetrators.

McNamara, chair of the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee, authored a bill to allow young victims to provide recorded video statements instead of physically testifying in a courtroom where they are forced to relive past trauma. McNamara said this change would not only help protect young victims, but also remove an emotional hurdle so that more children are willing to testify against their perpetrators.

“Thanks to technology, we can take this step on behalf of young victims who deserve justice and room to heal,” McNamara said. “This commonsense approach will encourage more victims to testify and ultimately put more traffickers behind bars. In Indiana, we will hold human traffickers accountable for their heinous actions.”

Nearly 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, making it the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry, according to the U.S. State Department. In Indiana, there were 140 human trafficking cases reported in 2020, up from 95 in 2017, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Currently, Indiana law requires Hoosiers 15 years old or older at the time of a trial to testify in court. McNamara’s proposal would allow survivors 14 years old or younger at the time of their assault to submit a video statement for court procedures if they are younger than 18 at the time of the trial.

The legislation would also increase sentencing for perpetrators whose victims are under the age of 18 and rules out victim consent or belief that a victim was at least 18 years old as a legal defense.

“Many human trafficking victims are under the age of 18 and ignorance should not be a defense to avoid prosecution in these cases,” McNamara said.

Local organizations and agencies would also begin reporting human trafficking cases to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office no more than 30 days after an investigation begins.

In addition, McNamara’s bill would close a legal loophole for individuals who pay a victim directly for sex acts. Currently, individuals who offer to or pay for sex acts can only be prosecuted with a Level 5 felony if they pay the trafficker directly. According to law enforcement, it is difficult to prosecute suspects as the majority of transactions occur between the perpetrator and the victim.

“Under this proposal, a person can be convicted of a felony regardless of who they pay,” McNamara said. “We need to close these loopholes and strengthen penalties for criminals feeding this multi-billion-dollar worldwide industry.”

Lawmakers will consider McNamara’s bill in the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Jan. 4.

If someone is suspected to be a victim of human trafficking, it should be reported immediately to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. For more information, visit humantraffickinghotline.org.

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