Padden human-trafficking bill goes to governor

Measure will improve prosecution of crimes against children

OLYMPIA – A bill making it easier to prosecute human trafficking crimes against children was approved by the Washington State House Wednesday and sent to the governor’s office to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 5885, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, allows out-of-court statements from children to be used in the prosecution of human trafficking cases. The measure applies to children under age 16.

The idea is to spare children the trauma of testifying in open court about these particularly troubling cases, Padden explained. Many have suffered sexual abuse and other injury. In some cases, these children have been sold into sexual slavery by their own relatives.

“In many cases, we reopen the wound by forcing children to testify in open court about these genuinely awful cases of abuse,” Padden said. “A sworn statement ought to be sufficient. We already grant an exception to the ‘hearsay rule’ in many court cases involving children 10 years old or younger. But it is somewhat older children who are more likely to be victimized by human trafficking. Their out-of-court statements should be admissible as well.”

The measure passed the Senate March 11 by a vote of 48-0. The House vote also was unanimous, 95-0.

During committee hearings, the measure received strong support from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and from Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization urging stronger laws against human trafficking.

“We are thrilled to see the Washington legislature create innovative and meaningful courtroom protections for child survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation,” said Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope and a former congresswoman from Southwest Washington.

“We have been honored to work closely with Senator Padden for many years, and thanks to his continued leadership on this issue, the state is now equipped to provide a more child and survivor-centered response to children who participate in prosecutions against their perpetrators.”