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Gov. Dunleavy introduces legislation to combat sex trafficking, increase penalties for sex offense convictions

Gov. Dunleavy introduces legislation to combat sex trafficking, increase penalties for sex offense convictions.
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 3:21 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced in a press conference on Friday that he has introduced three bills to the Alaska House aimed at protection for survivors, preventing sex trafficking, and better defining sex offenses and penalties as part of his People First Initiative.

“Safety and prevention are my administration’s top priorities, and these new bills reflect our determination to make Alaska a safe place for everyone,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “Alaska’s current laws do not provide appropriate protections for victims – that is unacceptable. We are introducing the three bills to protect Alaska’s most vulnerable. Through the People First Initiative, we are going to solve these long overdue issues.”

Dunleavy’s People First Initiative is designed to address five areas of public safety concern: domestic violence and sexual assault, human sex trafficking, missing and murdered Indigenous peoples, foster care and homelessness. Dunleavy announced the introduction of HB 317, 318 and 319 on Friday with Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell, Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore, Victims for Justice Board President Blaze Bell and Human Trafficking Recovery Services Director at MyHouse Staci Yates.

HB 317 specifically defines sex offenses and increases penalties for sex trafficking. A newly created “patron of a victim of sex trafficking” crime is a class B felony if the victim is under 18 years of age, and a class C felony if they are older. Additionally, convictions of prostitution can be vacated if survivors are able to show that they were a victim of sex trafficking at the time they committed the offense.

“These long-overdue updates to Alaska’s criminal statutes will help survivors of sex trafficking expunge the criminal records that have punished the victim and held them back from getting good jobs, a home, or from simply moving on,” Yates said in the press release.

House bill 318 focuses on protecting victims and provides greater protections during bail hearings and the determination of conditions of release. The bill would require defendants to provide the prosecution with 48 hours of notice in a request to modify bail amounts, and jail time will include consecutive sentences for numerous convictions of violating conditions of release.

“We need to ensure that when individuals are released on bail, they are held accountable,” Skidmore said during the press conference.

The bill would work to make the criminal justice system less traumatizing to survivors by allowing hearsay to be presented to a grand jury, which would permit the officer on the case to summarize the testimony of a witness.

“It brings me great hope to see that we are getting new trauma informed actions that are being put into place that will put victim rights at the forefront,” Bell said during the press conference.

House Bill 319 would require that lifetime revocation of teaching certificates if someone is convicted of child pornography. The bill also qualifies sexual contact without force as a class C felony, which would then require those convicted of the crime to register as sex offenders.

Current Alaska law requires force or the threat of force during unwanted sexual contact for it to be considered sexual assault, while HB 319 would allow for conviction for unwanted sexual contact without force.

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