Iowa raises penalties for human trafficking

(The Center Square) – Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill Tuesday to increase penalties for human trafficking.

The bill, HF 630, raises the level of felony for certain crimes regarding human trafficking.

To knowingly engage in human trafficking by causing or threatening to cause serious physical injury to a child is now a Class A felony, which means it’s a ticket to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Under Iowa law, several human trafficking crimes that were Class D felonies are now Class B felonies, punishable by prison for up to 25 years. Class B felonies include benefiting financially from human trafficking, destroying government identification, or physically restraining individuals. If the individual is a child, it’s now a Class A felony, not just a Class C felony.

Class C felonies carry the punishment of confinement for up to 10 years and a fine of between $1,370 and $13,660.

The law makes it a Class D felony, instead of a misdemeanor, to knowingly engage in human trafficking by providing a forged government identification or a license purportedly for massage therapy or cosmetology to another person to force or help them to work. It’s also now to a felony to intentionally engage in human trafficking by forcing or helping someone with a forged government identification or massage therapy or cosmetology license to provide that document upon the request of a peace officer. It’s now a Class B felony, not a Class D felony, to do so to a child.

It’s also no longer possible for an individual convicted of human trafficking to be eligible for deferred judgment or deferred or suspended sentence.

“Human trafficking is a vile form of modern-day slavery and in Iowa, we won’t tolerate it,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The bill signed today increases penalties for both labor and sex trafficking, and criminals found guilty of trafficking children under 18 will serve up to life in prison.”

In fiscal year 2022, there were no human trafficking convictions in Iowa and two convictions and two admissions to prison for the solicitation of commercial sexual activity,the bill’s fiscal note said. Since those convictions were so low, the state can’t estimate the fiscal impact, correctional impact, the marginal costs for county jails or the minority impact.

The state’s cost for a Class A felony involves at least the expense of two indigent defense attorneys, a cost of approximately $40,200, as well as court time and jury trial costs, which range from $9,900 to $14,100, the note said. The average cost to the state per Class B felony is $14,200 to $46,300. The cost is roughly $12,100 to $25,100 for a Class C felony, $9,500 to $17,400 for a Class D felony or $5,000 to $9,600 for an aggravated misdemeanor.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety’s Office to Combat Human Trafficking said in its 2022 annual report that from January through October 2022, it documented 50 human trafficking tips and leads, including 32 from law enforcement field encounters. The others were from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The report said human trafficking may be underrepresented in the judicial system since human trafficking is accompanied by other types of crimes that may be prosecuted in order to hold offenders accountable, without requiring the vulnerable trafficking victims to testify.

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