The Edmond Sun

State News

January 31, 2014

OKLAHOMA WATCH: State officials press for tougher laws against human trafficking

OKLA. CITY — A 15-year-old girl was working as a prostitute in Tulsa in September when she was arrested during a prostitution sting operation.

She had become a prostitute at a younger age because she saw the practice as a way to get money and attention from men, a state law-enforcement official said.

The girl, who was taken to a Tulsa shelter, is a victim of a crime — human trafficking — that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, legislators and others are trying to crack down on further.

This legislative session, lawmakers have introduced about a dozen bills that were drafted by the Bureau of Narcotics. Among other things, they would raise the statute of limitations, increase prison time for human trafficking and require those convicted of human trafficking to register as sex offenders.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt also has formed a working group to share intelligence on human trafficking. The group, composed of officials from various state, local and federal criminal-justice agencies, met for the first time on Thursday.

Human trafficking is a broad term that covers a range of activities, but generally involves use of force, fraud or oppression to keep someone in a labor or service situation. Examples are minors being forced into prostitution and adults who are forced to work off a debt in a massage parlor. Trafficking doesn’t refer necessarily to transporting of victims, but to exploiting them criminally for personal gain.

Bills introduced by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, would establish a 12-year statute of limitations for human trafficking.

Bills offered by Crain, Newberry and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, would require human traffickers to serve 85 percent of their prison sentences. Bills from Newberry, Crain and Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, would mandate the sex-offender registration.

“We’ve got to be careful in Oklahoma … of anything we make an 85 percent crime because of our incarceration rates,” said Darrell Weaver, director of the Bureau of Narcotics. “But I think with human trafficking, if you’ve got someone who’s convicted of trafficking, then I think that person needs to be on that list.”

Other bills supported by the bureau would change the term child to minor and make the crime of child prostitution applicable to anyone under age 18, instead of 16.

Oklahoma’s problem with human trafficking stems partly from its location at the crossing of several major interstates, but how often the crime occurs is hard to quantify, Weaver said.

There is little or no data on human trafficking because it’s not a crime easily tracked and is severely underreported because victims fear retaliation, Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward said.

The bureau is trying to attack human trafficking before it worsens in Oklahoma and has looked toward Nevada, especially Las Vegas, for models of legislation and operations.

“Most of these laws are mirrored after what Las Vegas has learned after years of experience,” Woodward said. While the problem in Oklahoma is less extreme, “if our laws are not prepared to deal with it, then we’re really wasting our time and doing a disservice to the victims.”

The Bureau of Narcotics has conducted about six sting operations and transferred from eight to 10 victims to shelters since the creation of its human trafficking unit in late 2012, Woodward said.

The Polaris Project, which advocates against trafficking across the world, said it has identified about 12,000 human-trafficking victims in the United States. Polaris credits Oklahoma as one of 32 states that have passed significant laws to combat trafficking.

From January to June last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center recorded 155 Oklahoma callers to its human trafficking hotline. Of those, 28 were determined to be actual cases of human trafficking.

Jason Weis is the president and founder of The Demand Project in Tulsa, which transfers victims to shelters and helps them escape lives of trafficking.

The organization also suggests legislation to agencies and lawmakers.

“If you are convicted of human trafficking, you shouldn’t get out with a slap on the wrist,” Weis said. “If you’re going to get a good, strong penalty, than you should be in jail for 85 percent of the time you’ve been convicted for.” The goal is to “really send a message to these networks of buyers and sellers that Oklahoma is not going to put up with this type of activity.”

Two other legislators have introduced shell bills without specific language that may be used to toughen human trafficking laws.

The two bills create the Human Trafficking Act of 2014, which Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, said will expunge the records of trafficking victims because many are forced into criminal lifestyles while being exploited. It comes on the heels of a House bill approved last year that expunges prostitution records for human-trafficking victims.

“When you get a kid that’s exposed to trafficking from age 13 to 18, if they can get out of that and get their records expunged, they still have an opportunity to go to college and make a better life for themselves,” Pittman said.

OKLAHOMA WATCH is a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism group that produces in-depth and investigative content on important public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

1
Text Only
State News
  • pic 2.JPG Energy secretary touts CNG fleet conversion

    Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague said the state is leading the way in converting its fleet of vehicles to run on compressed natural gas.
    And, he adds, the state is working to get federal officials engaged in moving its fleet of vehicles in Oklahoma to use CNG.
    Teague made those statements Tuesday during a visit to Champion CNG, 13915 N. Harvey Ave. in Edmond. The visit also coincided with Earth Day.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • 3 Senate candidates say no to Sharia law

    Whether to deport non-citizen Muslim men in the U.S. who believe violence is justified by Sharia law was a question asked to three of the seven Republicans running for the U.S. Senate.
    The Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee hosted a debate recently in Oklahoma City. The office is being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
    Congressman James Lankford said Great Britain has experimented with allowing certain pockets of their nation to function under Sharia law.

    April 22, 2014

  • Authorities make 8th arrest in Logan Co. homicide

    Authorities have arrested an eighth suspect in a homicide which involved the discovery of a badly burned body along a Logan County road.
    On Jan. 31, firefighters were dispatched to a grass fire in a rural area located south of State Highway 33 between Langston and Guthrie, Logan County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Richard Stephens stated in a previous report. While extinguishing the fire, firefighters discovered a badly burned male body, Stephens said.

    April 22, 2014

  • State suspends student testing over glitches

    Computer glitches forced state education officials to suspend online testing Monday, affecting student testing in Edmond and Deer Creek.
    State Superintendent Janet Barresi said as a result of online testing disruptions for students in grades 6-8 and high school end-of-instruction (EOIs) exams she directed testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill to suspend online testing for the day.
    “We certainly share in the frustration that students and school districts feel,” Barresi said. “It is of paramount importance that CTB finds the nature of the problem and resolves it as quickly as possible.”

    April 21, 2014

  • Police: Missing teen’s car found on Edmond street

    Police have released more information about a missing teen’s last known actions and the location of  her vehicle.
    In a previous report, Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow said the agency’s Missing Persons Unit is asking for the public’s help locating Anne Josette Hill, 16, a white female with brown hair, brown eyes, standing about 5-feet, 4-inches and weighing about 120 pounds.
    Wardlow said Hill was last seen April 10 in the north Oklahoma City/Edmond area.

    April 21, 2014

  • Jolley says Oklahoma common sense needed in Congress

    The conservative values that persuaded voters to elect state Sen. Clark Jolley to the state Legislature 10 years ago have not changed, he said. Jolley will bring the same values to Washington, D.C., if voters elect him to the Congressional 5th District, he said.
    More people today are moving to Oklahoma from Texas than vice versa, Jolley said. State government is solving problems, he added. So what the federal government needs is a lot of Oklahoma common sense solutions, said Jolley, R-Edmond.

    April 21, 2014

  • Kaiser joins Thunder ownership group

    Tulsa businessman George B. Kaiser has been approved by the NBA Board of Governors as a new partner in The Professional Basketball Club LLC, which owns the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thunder Chairman and CEO Clayton I. Bennett made the announcement Friday. Kaiser is purchasing the ownership interest of Tom L. Ward.
    “We are honored to welcome George Kaiser as a member of the ownership group of the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Bennett said. “George is a well-respected and important Oklahoma business leader, as well as one of the state and nation’s top philanthropists. His commitment to successful business and community leadership is in true alignment with that of the Thunder.
    “I also appreciate the commitment and leadership provided by Tom Ward as a member of our ownership group from the beginning,” Bennett added.

    April 18, 2014

  • jc_HarveySparks.jpg Pastor seeks congressional seat

    Working in the Congressional 1st District office of Congressman Jim Bridenstine was an eye opener for Harvey Sparks, he said. His analytical exposure to Congress has sparked his drive to run for the Congressional 5th District of Oklahoma, said Sparks, R-Oklahoma City.
    Sparks has been a pastor for the majority of his professional life. Sixteen months ago, he was asked by 1st District Congressman Jim Bridenstine to come work in his Washington, D.C., office. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three daughters and a son, ages 10-3.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Civil War the theme at Heritage Center Family Saturday

    The event will be 1-3 p.m. Saturday and is free with admission to the museum.

    April 16, 2014

  • MS_injection well.jpg Agency clarifies earthquake-related misinformation

    A state agency says misinformation related to the debate about the cause of more earthquakes across Central Oklahoma includes oil well types, well numbers and injection pressure.
    The Prague sequence of 2011 along the Wilzetta Fault zone included a significant foreshock, a main shock of magnitude 5.7 and numerous aftershocks. It has been suggested that this sequence represents tremors triggered by fluid injection.
    More recently, earthquakes have been recorded in the vicinity of Jones, Arcadia Lake, Edmond, Guthrie, Langston and Crescent. Regulators and scientists are working together to better understand what’s causing all the shaking.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo