Wyoming defends sex trafficking laws

Dec 12, 2011

Federal and state prosecutors in Wyoming
say the laws already on the books are sufficient to deal with
offenders who might engage in sex trafficking of children despite a
recent national report giving the state a failing grade on the
issue.
     Nonetheless, some Wyoming officials say the state should
consider adopting a new law specifically outlawing child sex
trafficking if only to send the public message that the state is
serious about the issue.
     Shared Hope International, an advocacy group, issued a stinging
report in early December handing out failing grades to Wyoming and
25 other states it says lack adequate laws against human
trafficking. It singled out Wyoming as one of four states with no
specific law against sex trafficking.
     "Each state's laws show omissions in protective provisions for
child victims, and lack strong laws to prosecute the men who rent
the bodies of other men's children," Linda Smith, founder of Share
Hope International, said in announcing the report.
     But Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips said Friday he
believes the group's report may leave the wrong impression.
     "Of all states in our union, I sincerely believe that if you
were going to exploit a child sexually, or traffic a child, this is
the very worst state to do that in," Phillips said.
     Phillips noted that Wyoming has abundant law enforcement
resources, including a nationally recognized Internet Crimes
Against Children unit and state and federal prosecutors eager to
prosecute such crimes.
     Jim Anderson, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Cheyenne,
concentrates on federal sex crimes prosecutions and has worked as a
state prosecutor.
     "Simply because we don't have a statute on the state books that
says, 'Gee, the sex trafficking of children, or the exploitation of
children for commercial sex purposes is against the law,' doesn't
mean that state investigators, and state prosecutors and state
judges can't address those type of cases just the same as we in the
federal system can," Anderson said.
     Both Phillips and Anderson emphasized that Wyoming, the nation's
least-populated state with just over 560,000 people, is still small
enough that local, state and federal law enforcement officials know
each other and work together on cases.
     While there is a federal child sex trafficking law on the books,
Anderson said it's not used in the state only because such cases
don't often come up.
     Anderson said he only recalls only one such case in Wyoming: a
2007 case in which a girl from Mexico was forced into prostitution
in Teton County. Three men who forced the girl to work as a
prostitute were convicted in federal court and sentenced to prison
terms and another man who had sex with the girl repeatedly was
convicted in state court and sentenced to serve up to 15 years.
     "It was treated very seriously," Anderson said. He said the
girl received services including a specialized foster home where
people spoke Spanish and other treatment.
     Alicia Wilson, policy counsel with Shared Hope International in
Washington, said the report didn't look at how existing state or
federal laws are implemented in prosecuting any particular cases of
child sex trafficking in Wyoming.
     "We're not at all saying that the kids are not being
protected," Wilson said. "We're saying that the laws are not
strong enough on the books themselves and we do not look at
implementation. We hope to in the future."
     Wilson said it's possible that a sex-trafficking case could come
up in Wyoming that didn't have any elements that would allow it to
be tried in federal court. "And even if it's only one minor, don't
you want a law to protect that victim?" she said.
     Phillips said the Shared Hope International report will prompt
him to write to Wyoming legislative leaders telling them they may
want to consider drafting a state law specifically addressing the
sex trafficking issue to send the public message that the state
cares about the issue.
     Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, is both a state lawmaker and a
local prosecutor.
     "Wyoming has laws on the books that cover child sex
trafficking," Gingery said. "However, the report does suggest
some very good ideas on how to bolster and improve our already
existing statutes. I think the report is worthy of further study by
the Wyoming Legislature, and legislation being proposed to bolster
and improve our statutes as they suggest."