Mass. Bishops urge passage of anti-trafficking legislation
By Christopher S. PineoPilot Correspondent
WEST END -- In a letter addressed to members of the State Senate and House of Representatives, the four bishops of the commonwealth urged legislators to finalize the passage of a bill to prevent human-trafficking on a state level.
In the Oct. 11 letter, the bishops thanked legislators for the passage of separate versions of an anti-trafficking bill, but urged them to reconcile the two as soon as possible so the legislation can be enacted.
"As you know, traffickers seek out and exploit the most vulnerable members of society; undocumented residents, runaway teenagers, homeless individuals, and people with alcohol and drug dependency," the letter read.
"Traffickers often confiscate documents, threaten to deport individuals, and make threats against family members to exploit immigrants. Children without a parent or legal guardian are especially susceptible to commercial sexual exploitation. The promise of love, security and belonging can be deceptively appealing to a child who lacks a stable home environment or has left a family experiencing violence."
The bill, An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People, exists in two versions with discernible differences. The 14-page house version focused on prosecution of criminals who engage in human trafficking, while the 26-page senate version added a focus on the victims of trafficking. S01951, from the senate, used the word "victim" 84 times, while H03483, from the house, used it only eight. Currently, the versions require revision by a joint committee of both branches to resolve differences and finalize legislation.
The bill's author, Senator Mark Montigny, chair of the committee for the senate side of deliberations, confirmed the sense of urgency put forth by the bishops.
"The passage of this bill is long over-due," he said in an email. "I commend the bishops that have been so instrumental in making this such an important social justice priority, in addition to all the clergy whom have spoken out against human trafficking and become activists themselves."
"We owe the survivors of this insidious crime a comprehensive bill that will protect future victims and allow law enforcement officials to bring traffickers to justice," he said.
The chair of the committee on the house side, Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, invited The Pilot to a face-to-face interview on the matter. He spoke to the urgency of passing the legislation in Massachusetts to facilitate efficiency through local rather than federal enforcement.
"In order for legislation to get attention around here, oftentimes something dramatic needs to happen. And in this particular instance the dramatic thing that happened, I think, is just a bursting of information on this subject matter, both the news media reporting on it as well as folks saying, 'What are we doing about it?'" he said.
"The layer that was missing was the ability to statutorily identify human trafficking, and penalties, and start defining the conduct so that law enforcement here locally, not federal law enforcement, but the attorney general and the district attorneys would be able to point to a Massachusetts statute, so they wouldn't have to refer things to the feds."
To further explain the position of the bishops, Kathryn M. Davis, the public policy coordinator for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, explained that the bishops' concerns on the devastating consequences of human trafficking are rooted in the Gospel message that "we are to care for the stranger among us, that we are to look out for our brother and sister and be his or her keeper," Davis said.
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