Senate passes Padden bill to improve prosecution of child human-trafficking cases

OLYMPIA – The state Senate Monday passed a bill allowing children’s statements outside of court proceedings to be utilized in prosecution of human-trafficking cases, a measure its sponsor says will help spare victims additional trauma.

Senate Bill 5885, introduced by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, extends the state’s exceptions to the “hearsay rule” to children under sixteen in human-trafficking cases. Currently Washington courts generally allow statements made out of court by children under 10 to be used as evidence, especially in cases involving sexual abuse.

The measure passed the Senate unanimously, 48-0, and now moves to the House for further consideration.

“This bill will offer a tool for the prosecution of trafficking cases involving children,” Padden said. “Many of these children have already suffered severe abuse from pimps and even their own families. In some cases, the children are themselves homeless and difficult to locate when a hearing is held. Prosecutors will have to be careful how they use this exception to the rule, but we have been able to utilize it successfully in other areas of the law.”

In testimony before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Feb. 18, the bill was endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, now president of Shared Hope International, a Washington, D.C.-based organization advocating stronger laws against human trafficking. Smith said, “When you think about these children sitting and facing their abusers, it is like another form of abuse.”

Witnesses told of the trauma experienced by child human-trafficking victims, from abduction, rape and physical abuse. In some cases, victims have even been sold into servitude by their own family members. The measure also was endorsed by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.