SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A sweeping piece of legislation to overhaul and toughen New Mexico’s sex trafficking laws could also finally open the door for trafficking victims to reclaim money from the criminals who’ve exploited them.
Advocates are pushing for the New Mexico House to vote on House Bill 237 before the short 30-day session ends next week. The bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, was the subject of powerful testimony Wednesday from victims of sex trafficking.
“I had just turned 17-years old and I met a man and began to work underage at a local strip club in New Mexico,” said one sex trafficking victim who now works as a victim’s advocate.
The bill, in part, seeks to strengthen penalties for sex trafficking offenders, eliminate the statute of limitations for the offense, and empower victims of the crime.
“The kidnapping, the rape every day, multiple times a day,” said Dallas, who also survived sex trafficking. “By the time I even realized I was a victim, the statute of limitations was up on four of them.”
A victim advocate with the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force, Kathleen Burke supports the bill aimed at toughening state law surrounding trafficking.
“We believe that we’ll have a safer New Mexico as a result of this,” Burke said. Much of the work surrounding the bill ramped up after allegations of human trafficking-related sex crimes involving billionaire Jeffery Epstein, who owned a ranch in rural New Mexico.
“Our penalties are very low regarding sex trafficking,” Burke said. The bill seeks to change that, proposing language that would make sex trafficking of any minor a first-degree felony, eliminating the statute of limitations on the crime, and making anyone convicted of sex trafficking register as a sex offender.
“This really addresses the public safety component of protecting vulnerable people and young females in particular,” Burke said. Those convicted of sex trafficking could also be forced to pay victims restitution as a component of the bill.
“A lot of sex trafficking victims, all of their wages are taken by the trafficker, if not all, most, and so in this case, hopefully, they will get some restitution,” Burke said. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Democrat State Representative Liz Thomson hopes the legislation sends a clear message.
“We don’t want to become a safe haven for billionaire sex traffickers or any other kind of sex trafficker,” Thomson said. The trafficking bill is expected to go to a full House vote next, but also still needs to pass the New Mexico Senate.