CHEYENNE — Lawmakers provided emotional accounts of would-be human trafficking violations in Wyoming during debate on the state House floor Thursday.
A bill to make human trafficking a crime in Wyoming passed a second House vote Thursday. It comes up for a third and final House vote Friday.
Wyoming currently is the only state without a law that provides criminal penalties for human trafficking. Federal authorities have been prosecuting most of these cases in Wyoming.
House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, also provides services to victims of human trafficking.
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, is an assistant Teton County attorney. He told colleagues of one case in which a combination of state laws was used to get convictions of three men involved in the forced prostitution of a 12-year-old girl from Mexico.
Gingery said one of the men brought in the girl and set her up in a Jackson motel. Two other men then went on the streets to solicit customers who lined up outside the motel door to have sex with the child.
Gingery said the girl was raped almost nonstop over three weeks. Finally, the men were caught, prosecuted and convicted.
The prosecution was difficult and required putting pieces of state law together in order to convict all three men, Gingery said.
“We’re dealing with people trying to make a quick buck,” he said.
Gingery said the young girl is doing well, lives in Wyoming with a good foster family and has received considerable help from the Department of Family Services.
Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, said sheriff’s deputies told her of local girls who owe money from buying methamphetamine and pay off the debt through prostitution.
“If you think it doesn’t happen in Wyoming, think again,” Harvey said during debate on the bill.
The bill also covers forced labor, which involves an employer who brings in foreign workers, then takes their passports and doesn’t give them back. The isolated workers then have no choice but to work for little or no pay.
A University of Wyoming student group, the International Justice Mission Chapter, has been pushing for the human trafficking law since last year.
The students contacted Connolly, a University of Wyoming professor, to sponsor the proposal.
They said cases have popped up all over the state. Their goal is to get a law in place so victims won’t be tried as criminals, the group’s petition says.