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Donna Soucy: NH must improve domestic violence, human trafficking laws

January 23. 2014 12:38AM

To start the 2014 state Senate session, I have been working on a number of bills that will strengthen our public safety laws and protect victims to ensure New Hampshire continues to be the safest state in the nation.

I wanted to highlight two of the most important ones for you. I have sponsored Senate Bill 318, which creates a crime of domestic violence. I have also sponsored Senate Bill 317, which toughens our state’s human trafficking law.

My first piece of public safety legislation, SB 318, is known as “Joshua’s Law.” It establishes a crime of domestic violence. Although we have enacted reasonable civil protections for victims, we still do not have a crime of domestic violence. In fact, New Hampshire is one of only 15 states that do not have a crime of domestic violence.

This proposed law is named after Joshua Savyon, who was killed by his father at the YWCA in Manchester. His mother, Becky, asked me to name this law after Joshua as a way to honor him by helping other families exposed to domestic violence.

Joshua’s mother told me that she never recognized the signs of domestic violence in her own relationship with Joshua’s father, who killed himself after killing their son. This law would not only shed more light on the issue of domestic violence, but it also would assist others in getting services and protections earlier in the process.

“Joshua’s Law” would take existing criminal charges commonly charged in domestic violence cases, bring them under the umbrella of one crime, and label it what it actually is: domestic violence. Police and prosecutors believe the paper trail this creates would help to identify and stop repeat abusers.

“Joshua’s Law” is supported by chiefs of police, county sheriffs and attorneys, the Attorney General, and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

In addition to creating a domestic violence offense, I’ve also worked with the Attorney General’s office and have sponsored SB 317 to strengthen New Hampshire’s human trafficking law.

Human trafficking, here in New Hampshire? You might be thinking that this is something that happens only in another country or in some major metropolitan area. But there have been cases right here in New Hampshire. In fact, the first case occurred in my district in Litchfield, where a group of Jamaican men were forced into slave labor.

New Hampshire was once on the cutting edge of human trafficking legislation, as we were one of the first states in the nation to criminalize trafficking. Unfortunately, we have fallen behind. A recent study named New Hampshire the second-worst in the nation for its legal protections for trafficking victims. Trafficking is a growing problem in America and New Hampshire is not immune.

SB 317 toughens our current law by making prostituting minors a felony, providing protection from criminal prosecution or juvenile delinquency proceedings to children who have been forced into prostitution or other forms of human trafficking, and making it a felony to knowingly force a person to engage in labor or sex acts against his or her will. It establishes remedies for victims by allowing them to petition to vacate a prostitution conviction when they were trafficked and also allows them to sue their trafficker in civil court.

By heightening the awareness of these crimes, the bill will result in more identification of human trafficking. It’s critical that law enforcement, the courts, partnering agencies and advocacy organizations are able to intervene quickly to end victimization and prosecute traffickers. These important changes to existing law will help protect victims, assist prosecutors in bringing traffickers to justice, and serve as model legislation for other states in America.

By passing these important, common-sense pieces of legislation, we will protect victims by strengthening our public safety laws and guaranteeing that New Hampshire continues to be the safest state in the nation.

Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee and represents Litchfield as well as Manchester Wards 5-9 in the state Senate.

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