Iowa Legislature Dramatically Escalates Sentences for Human Trafficking

(Radio Iowa) The Iowa legislature has unanimously voted to increase prison sentences for human trafficking in Iowa. Representative Zach Dieken, a Republican from Granville, says the bill will dramatically change how human trafficking and sex trafficking is prosecuted in Iowa.

“These crimes and their victims deserve more than a simple misdemeanor pled down from a D felony,” Dieken says.  Republican Representative Mark Thompson of Clarion says Iowa has anemic sentences, forcing prosecution of major Iowa human trafficking cases into federal courts, which have a backlog.

“The scourge that is on Iowa right now is that we have this and it’s hidden and most of us don’t see it. Most of us, in some cases, don’t want to see it,” Thompson says. “It’s the crime that keeps on giving. You sell drugs, you smuggle drugs, that money’s gone. You smuggle a person, that person keeps providing money to the perpetrator.”
Dieken says the rescue of a child during a western Iowa traffic stop in 2014 illustrates the gravity of the problem.

“The six-year-old boy was not related to anyone in the vehicle and thought he was being taken to his mother’s house in Las Vegas…There was a strong feeling and suspicion from all officers involved that this child was destined for a life in child labor or the sex industry,” Dieken says. “This trooper would see a national award for this traffic stop. This happened in Council Bluffs, not in some far away land.” Those convicted of trafficking anyone under the age of 18 could be sentenced to life in an Iowa prison once the bill becomes law. Representative Elinor Levin, a Democrat from Iowa City, says human trafficking is a serious offense.

“I am not generally a big fan of increasing penalties, but this is a case in which I think the current standard does not match the crime,” Levin says. The bill passed the House 96-to-zero on March 9th and the Senate approved it today (Tuesday) on a 49-to-zero vote. Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale was the only senator who spoke before the vote.

“This bill’s very important. Seems like most all the parties have agreed to what we’re trying to do here,” Zaun says. “If you’re doing, engaging in any of these human trafficking, you’re going to pay the price.” Attorney General Brenna Bird has expressed support for the bill and legislators expect Governor Reynolds to sign it into law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Washington was the first state to criminalize human trafficking in 2003. In 2006, the Iowa legislature unanimously voted to make human trafficking a class D felony — which carries a fine of up to $7,500 dollars and a sentence of up to five years in prison.