PHOENIX - The help that Gov. Jan Brewer promised victims of human trafficking in her State of the State address became law this week, increasing penalties and establishing being a victim of sex trafficking as a defense in child prostitution cases.
"The goal of this legislation is to further discourage criminals from further inflicting this horror on people of Arizona, particularly our children," Brewer said as she signed HB 2454.
Among other provisions, the bill sets the penalty for prostituting a child age who is 15-17 at between 10 years and 24 years in prison. It also targets those who recruit sex trafficking victims from high-risk places such as shelters serving runaways, foster children, homeless people or victims of domestic violence.
The bill, authored by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, includes some of the recommendations made by a task force Brewer assembled last year to combat sex trafficking.
"The signing of House Bill 2454 is a proud and significant day for Arizona, particularly for those who have been personally affected by this terrible crime," Brewer said.
That includes Carolyn Jones, a former sex trafficking victim who now works with StreetLightUSA, an organization that advocates for victims of child prostitution.
"Today means to me that not only did I get free, but I am now being put in a position to help others get free from a life of hurt, harm, shame, pain, guilt, loneliness," said Jones, who attended the news conference at which Brewer signed the measure.
Cindy McCain, who co-chaired the task force with Gilbert Orrantia, director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, said the law will discourage those who engage in human trafficking from coming to Arizona but is only a first step.
The next step? Programs to help victims, she said.
"We have a long way to go because we now need to talk about victim services, what we do for survivors, all the things that are necessary to put a life back together for these people," McCain said.
Orrantia said the bill's focus on child victims is important.
"If there's anything that's more important than protecting your kids, I'd like somebody to tell me about that," he said. "Human sex trafficking is wrong, it's evil, it's the worst thing."
Brewer said while the state is leading the way in combating sex trafficking Arizonans must continue to be vigilant.
"We must monitor and continue to promote public awareness of this serious problem," she said. "We must make sure that the victimized and the vulnerable know how to seek help and we must equip all Arizonans with the tools and the knowledge to recognize and report these crimes."