Legislation to Protect Human Trafficking Victims Advances

After Illinois received another failing grade from a national advocacy group, state House Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at further protecting victims and prosecuting perpetrators of human trafficking.

Shared Hope International, an advocacy organization that works to prevent sex trafficking, said in its 2023 Illinois report card that the state’s grade improved from 48 to 54.5 out of 100 between 2021 and 2023, but that still marked an ‘F’ grade. 

“Of the six metrics that they use to grade a state’s efforts to protect victims of exploitation and support their recovery, Illinois only receives one passing grade of ‘B’ for prosecuting abusers,” Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, said at a news conference. “That means we have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to helping victims get their lives back together after traumatic events occur.” […]

“While we’ve made strides in certain areas, we’re failing in crucial aspects, particularly in victim protections,” Rep. Nicole La Ha, R-Homer Glen, said at a news conference. “The failing grade Illinois received highlights the urgency of this situation. We cannot continue to overlook the needs of trafficking victims.” […]

House Republicans have proposed seven bills to improve human trafficking protections and penalties. The bills focus on protections for minors and prosecuting perpetrators. 

“If we can start creating awareness that this happens at that young age, we could start to bring attention that trafficking of all ages happens right here,” La Ha said in a recent interview.

House Bill 5465 would allow a human trafficking victim to have their juvenile record from crimes committed while being trafficked as a minor sealed or expunged. The proposal is an extension of House Bill 2418, which granted similar provisions to people who were trafficked as adults. The law was signed by Gov. JB Pritzker last year following unanimous approval by lawmakers and took effect on Jan. 1, 2024.  It also allows the victim to petition remotely, and to have the petition sealed. 

“One of the first steps in helping someone heal after an immense trauma like sexual abuse is ensuring that their past doesn’t follow them around and keep them from being someone new,” Keicher, the House sponsor of both bills, said at a news conference in March.

HB 5465 unanimously passed the House on April 17 and unanimously passed out of the Senate Special Committee on Criminal Law and Public Safety on May 1. The bill now awaits Senate consideration. […]

La Ha’s House Bill 5467 unanimously passed the House on April 17. It would remove the statute of limitations for a victim to press charges of trafficking, involuntary servitude, and involuntary sexual servitude that occurred when the victim was a minor. Under current law the prosecution must start within 25 years of the victim turning 18.

La Ha said the bill allows victims to “come to terms with their trauma in their own time” by giving them a greater window to “bring their trafficker to justice.”