Sex trafficking is a difficult issue to confront. It’s hard to think about people being placed in such a position, much less talk about it and develop effective strategies to combat it. Therefore, it’s heartening the U.S. Senate, in a rare show of bipartisanship, came together this week to pass legislation aimed at protecting victims of sex trafficking and making punishing the perpetrators of such crimes more effective. Kudos especially to Sen. Dan Sullivan, who added an amendment that will give Alaska and other states the power to pursue interstate cases when the U.S. Justice Department won’t.
The sex trafficking bill is surprisingly wide-ranging for a piece of legislation passed by a unanimous 99-0 vote. It will give new resources to law enforcement agents pursuing sex trafficking cases, as well as set up a fund with fees from convicted sex traffickers to help victims. Aiding in the bill’s bipartisan support was the ability of the Republican majority to keep members of their caucus from attaching amendments not germane to its intent: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, wanted to attach language relating to illegal immigration, but was convinced by party leadership doing so would endanger a worthy bill.
Sen. Sullivan’s amendment was one of particular relevance to Alaska. It will allow states to pursue legal action against sex traffickers transporting victims across state lines when federal officials decline to prosecute. It’s an issue Sen. Sullivan encountered in a famous case during his tenure as the state’s attorney general in 2010.
At that time, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would not prosecute former Veco executive Bill Allen, who state and federal authorities had investigated for sex trafficking of minor girls. With federal authorities unwilling to act, Sullivan had no recourse at the state level because interstate sex trafficking was the sole jurisdiction of the federal government under the Mann Act.
Sen. Sullivan’s amendment would allow the U.S. Justice Department to hand such cases off to the states involved — and require them to explain why if they decline to do so.
There may not be many instances in which the state’s new power to prosecute such cases comes into effect. But it’s good for that option to be available, and even one case that could be pursued under the new authority would make Sen. Sullivan’s amendment worthwhile. Thanks to the U.S. Senate for an all-too-rare instance of bipartisan cooperation on a good bill, and especially to Sen. Sullivan for applying his experience as attorney general to implement a law change that could well make a difference for Alaska and other states.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,