A bill in the South Dakota legislature would make it easier to prosecute cases of human trafficking of children.    

House Bill 1118 would remove the requirement to prove force or coercion when the victim is under 18. 48 states and the federal government already have such a law in place.  

Supporters of House Bill 1118 say since children aren’t capable of giving consent to illegal sex acts, there is no need to prove force, fraud or coercion when it comes to human trafficking.

“If you’re under 18, you have been forced, defrauded or coerced into doing this, you shouldn’t have to prove that in a court,” Rep. Tom Holmes, (R) Sioux Falls said.

State Representative Tom Holmes is sponsoring the bill. He says he doesn’t want to see sex traffickers exploit weaker laws involving young victims in states like South Dakota.

“We found a lot of girls being brought up here from Chicago, Milwaukee and our kids being taken to those places because if you can get them out of their home, you make them more dependent on you and they’re less likely to escape,” Holmes said.

Those who oppose dropping the coercion threshold say it will place more of a financial burden on the state’s court system by handling cases that should be tried at the federal level.  But Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan says we’re not talking about a large caseload to begin with.

“This would maybe be a handful a year tops, so it would not be a significant addition to our caseload, it would be manageable along with our current volume,” McGowan said.

McGowan says state’s attorneys’ offices can provide immediate attention to sex trafficking cases since federal prosecutors often have to first answer to higher-ups in Washington before filing charges.

“Anytime we have a predator and a child victim involved, we want to do everything we have in our power to hold that offender accountable for their actions and protect our children,” McGowan said. 

Supporters say removing the coercion provision will likely lead to more convictions statewide,  and that will in turn lead to fewer children falling victim to human traffickers.  
The state of New York is the only other state besides South Dakota that requires prosecutors prove coercion involving young human trafficking victims.  The South Dakota bill dropping the coercion requirement goes before the House Judiciary Committee next week.