EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – New Mexico lawmakers are trying to shore up human trafficking laws, establishing mandatory restitution and doing away with a statute of limitations, among others.

The bill filed by State Reps. Georgene Louis and Elizabeth Thomson, both Democrats from the Albuqerque area, also redefines the crime of sexual exploitation of children by prostitution to include victims younger than 18. Current law caps the age of the victim at 16.

“Human trafficking is one of the most violent crimes in our society, and our laws are severely outdated and do not protect the interests of those who are subject to this horrific abuse,” said New Mexico Attorney General Balderas.  

A hearing on House Bill 56 was scheduled for this Tuesday in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Balderas said the bill would bring the state’s human trafficking statutes in line with national standards, shoring up protection for victims. That includes, for instance, not holding victims criminally liable for prostitution if they were forced or coerced to perform the acts and not disqualifying the victim from human trafficking protections based on sexual history or prior sexual commercial activity. It also clarifies that minors cannot legally consent to being trafficked for sex.

“The crime of human trafficking may seem invisible for many, but this horrendous crime is all too common and it leaves deep and lasting damage on its victims,” Thomson said. “With this legislation, we are working to aid the victims and the law enforcement officials who are seeking justice against human traffickers.”

Louis added the bill would be especially beneficial to Native Americans, for they comprise only 11% of the state’s population but account for 25% of human trafficking victims.

According to the 2019 report from the Human Trafficking Institute, New Mexico ranks 23rd nationwide in active human trafficking prosecutions nationwide and 35th in convictions.

Some of the factors that put women and men at risk of becoming trafficking victims include poverty, loss of job, immigration status and a need to be loved or accepted, according to a 2017 report by the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force.

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