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Washington's Human Trafficking Law is Tested, But Is It The Right One?

Published: 2010-1-13

Article provided by The Crowley Law Firm
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In 2003, Washington became the first state to outlaw human trafficking. This past November, a King County jury was finally given the chance to use the six-year-old law.

Deshawn Clark was charged with nine counts relating to commercial sexual abuse of a minor, human trafficking, promotion of prostitution, unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy. Clark was accused, along with five other men, with overseeing a prostitution ring that included upwards of 12 women and girls. Allegedly, he was responsible for pimping both a 15 and 17-year-old, bringing them into prostitution through promises of a better life and keeping them involved with threats and violence.

Throughout the trial, Clark's lawyer argued that the Washington law was not designed for cases like the one facing his client. Rather, he pointed to the intent of the law — the desire to stop cross-border trafficking and the forced labor or prostitution of immigrants, illegal or legal.

Still, Washington's human trafficking law does apply to those involved in "forced labor and involuntary servitude" for financial benefit. The prosecution claimed that there was no difference between a smuggled immigrant forced into labor or prostitution and a United States citizen forced into the same circumstances.

In the end, the prosecution won the day. Deshawn Clark was convicted on six counts, including second-degree human trafficking. He has yet to be sentenced.

The prosecution had a strong claim; on a technical level, the language of Washington's human trafficking law applied to Clark. However, the defense was also correct in asserting that Clark was not the intended target of the law.

When it was introduced, the law was intended to fight cross-border smugglers, such as those believed to be smuggling immigrants through Washington's busy ports. These are individuals who bring people into the United States with the intention of selling or trading them, or, like Clark, forcing them into prostitution.

While Clark was found guilty of coercion and use of force in terms of prostitution, his crime did not involve the transportation or smuggling of human beings.

It is important to note that laws which are not clearly defined are often applied beyond their bounds and intended targets. Even if Deshawn Clark was guilty of a crime, was Washington's human trafficking law the correct one to prosecute him under? It's not exactly clear.

By clarifying the law, and clarifying how it applies to different situations, legislators can avoid questions such as this and lessen the chance that time-consuming amendments will be needed later on.