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Lawmakers seek ‘toughest in nation’ anti-minor trafficking bill, death penalty for sexual battery

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The criminal penalties for those who harm children would be significantly increased under several proposed bills in the upcoming session, including the death penalty for adults who commit sexual battery against young children and life without parole for those who traffic them.

Pre-filed this month, the Sound of Freedom Act would institute the “toughest law in the nation” for human trafficking of minors, according to its sponsor, Rep. Donna Givens, R-Loxley.

A multibillion-dollar industry, human trafficking has increased in the United States in recent years, with prosecutions increasing by 84% from 2011 to 2020. In Alabama, more than 1,500 victims of human trafficking have been identified by the National Human Trafficking Hotline since 2007.

“I just can’t imagine the horror that someone would go through of losing a child in this manner, so it’s been something that has just touched my heart for many years, and I wanted to do this bill,” Givens told Alabama Daily News this week.

Named after the 2023 film of the same name, the Sound of Freedom Act would institute an automatic life sentence for anyone convicted of trafficking a victim under the age of 18. Under the bill, it would not be required that the perpetrator be aware of their victim’s age to be given a life sentence, nor would mistaking the victim’s age be a legitimate legal defense.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News he plans to file three bills strengthening criminal penalties against those who abuse children. One would make the sexual battery by an adult of a child age 11 or younger a capital offense. 

“Adults ought to know well enough to never abuse children sexually,” Orr told ADN. “ If they do, they should pay the ultimate price for such evil selfishness that harms and destroys the most vulnerable among us.” 

Florida last year passed a similar bill allowing for the death penalty for those who sexually abuse children. A Florida prosecutor last month said he is pursuing the first death penalty case under that new law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has previously said that rape isn’t a capital crime. But, Orr said, the current Supreme Court may feel differently.  

Like Givens, Orr is concerned about traffickers targeting children. He plans to file a bill increasing penalties for those who kidnap children from parks, schools or other places many children are often present. It’s modeled after a Texas law, he said. It would also increase the penalties for those who traffic vulnerable children from settings such as centers serving runaway youth and drug treatment facilities. 

Another proposal from Orr will require the mandatory forfeiture of a state employee or teacher’s pension if he or she is convicted of having sex with a student or possessing child pornography. In 2012, Orr successfully passed a bill requiring that anyone in the Retirement Systems of Alabama who is convicted of a felony forfeit the state-funded portion of their retirement benefits. 

On Wednesday, Orr said that law is sometimes used by prosecutors to get people to plead to lesser crimes. Like the 2012 bill, people would be able to keep what they’ve put into their retirements under Orr’s new proposal.

As to Givens anti-human trafficking bill, she said that the topic has been important to her for many years, but that it was after seeing the film Sound of Freedom, which centers around human trafficking, that she knew it was time to do more on the issue.

“There’s more to be done, and I hope that this is just the beginning (of) more laws to come for trafficking in Alabama, and I would love to go after each layer of this crime and be able to make some really stiff laws that other states would follow,” she said.

Under existing law, human trafficking – whether it be of an adult or minor – is a Class A felony, which can lead to a sentence of between ten years and life imprisonment.

The Sound of Freedom Act, with its minimum life sentence for convictions of human trafficking of minors, would make it the strongest such law in the nation.

“From what I have gathered, with this, Alabama will be the leader in prosecuting (human traffickers),” she said. “I’ve had a lot of positive calls and feedback on this, other people wanting to co-sign the bill, others wanting to get involved, so it’s been very positive, I’ve not had one negative (comment).”

In crafting the bill, Givens said she had spoken with Baldwin County Sheriff Hoss Mack, to her county’s district attorney, and others in law enforcement. 

Alabama passed its first anti-human trafficking law more than a decade ago in 2010, and the following year, established human trafficking hotlines at hotspots such as bus stops, hotels and airports.

Orr said he’s also considering bills aimed at keeping children from accessing pornography online and requiring parental consent for social media access.

“The state needs to do more to help families protect children as the culture continues to erode,” Orr said.

Alabama Daily News’ Mary Sell contributed to this report. 

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