Gov. Larry Hogan appeared in Rockville on Thursday to unveil a package of statewide initiatives aimed at battling human trafficking, a problem that has been in the rise in Montgomery County.
The measures include the creation of a new position for an anti-human trafficking director to coordinate statewide efforts; providing $9 million in funding for victim services and crime fighting; and offering a $500,000 grant to help create a crime research center at the University of Maryland. Hogan (R) also said his administration next year will resubmit legislation to classify felony human trafficking as a violent crime.
In Montgomery County, the number of human trafficking cases increased nearly tenfold from 2014 to 2016, rising from three cases to 29. In June, county police announced the arrests of a man and two women on human trafficking and prostitution charges after investigating four massage parlors in the Gaithersburg area.
Hogan said the state’s transportation arteries attract human trafficking activity.
“The chilling reality is that Maryland’s central location and access to major highways, airports, like I-95 and BWI, make our state a hotbed for human trafficking, including both sex trafficking and labor trafficking,” Hogan said.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported receiving 545 calls from Maryland in 2016.
County Executive Ike Leggett joined Hogan on Thursday and said Montgomery County is also taking a multipronged approach to combatting the problem.
The Montgomery County Human Trafficking Prevention Committee is surveying hotels and motels to learn how they train employees to recognize human trafficking activity. The committee is also working to enhance victim services and reviewing and inspecting “bodyworks” establishment, which can serve as fronts for human trafficking operations.
“This is a national problem,” Leggett said. “Maryland is no exception. Montgomery County is no exception.”
During the news conference at the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Hogan signed an executive order to create the post of ananti-human trafficking director, who will advise law enforcement agencies and coordinate victim services throughout the state.
Other initiatives include:
– A $500,000 grant to the University of Maryland to establish the Maryland Crime Research and Innovation Center;
– $5 million for victim services such as emergency shelter, a 24-hour help line, therapy, peer groups, housing assistance, job training and more;
– Creation of a protocol that Child Advocacy Centers can use to help child human trafficking victims; and
– $4 million in new Maryland Crime Intelligence Network grants to 13 counties to crack down on gangs and criminal networks. Montgomery County will receive $257,000.
Hogan’s 2019 legislation will seek to classify certain human trafficking offenses as violent crimes. The change could allow for tougher prison sentences in these types of cases, when a perpetrator trafficks a child or intends to use force to compel a victim to perform sexual acts. The bill failed in the House of Delegates earlier this year.
Maryland Sen. Susan Lee, a Democrat from Montgomery County, has pushed for a similar version of the proposal, Hogan said.
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