Rev. Creech says legislation was badly needed
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
July 26, 2013
RALEIGH – The Tar Heel state will be a less welcoming place for sex traffickers thanks to a bill passed this week to increase punishments for perpetrators and to protect underage victims forced or lured into the trafficking trap. The move comes days after a Hope Mills couple was charged with kidnapping and other crimes when police say they forced a woman into sexual servitude, using her for prostitution at a Fayetteville hotel.
“I couldn’t help being moved by the irony that this was happening on the eve of the human trafficking bill being taken up in the Senate,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Perhaps its Providence’s way of showing how badly North Carolina needs this legislation.”
Called the Safe Harbor Act, the bill will increase the penalties for involuntary servitude, establish a first-offender conditional discharge program for prostitutes, treat minor prostitutes as victims and increase the punishment for solicitation for prostitution and for soliciting a minor.
Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover) recommended the measure as one of several actions to help remove North Carolina from the top 10 list in the nation for human trafficking.
“We’re thankful for all the work that went into this bill by sponsors, non-profit agencies, prosecutors and others, including the Conference Committee that ironed out some differences between House and Senate versions of the bill,” said Dr. Creech,. The CAL worked closely with victims’ advocate groups to help spread the word about the growing trafficking problem in North Carolina and also in promoting the bill to lawmakers.
While both the House and Senate overwhelmingly supported efforts to curb trafficking, there was disagreement on whether those between the ages of 16 and 18 arrested for prostitution should be offered deferred prosecution, as was approved in the House, or total immunity, which the Senate favored. The Conference Committee report, approved by the House Tuesday with a vote of 104-0, offered immunity for those under 18. The Senate approved the report Wednesday.
“The public needs to know that mistake of age — someone claiming he didn’t know that a girl was underage when he engaged in sex with her — is no excuse,” said Dr. Creech. “The person perpetrating the crime, buying or selling sex, not the victim forced into servitude, will be charged so that North Carolina can truly be a safe harbor for young people.”
House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) had floated an amendment that would simply defer prosecution of minor prostitutes if they met certain criteria, but the Conference Committee rejected his suggestion. The bill is part of a package of measures aimed at reducing the crime of trafficking. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill that will put traffickers on the state’s sex offender registry.
The pair arrested Sunday — Robin Applewhite, 36, and Samantha Rivard, 29 — were charged with human trafficking and other crimes, with bonds set at $800,000 and $700,000 respectively.