Human trafficking won’t become a felony in Maryland, at least not this year, after state lawmakers raised concerns about wording in a bill that would strengthen penalties against pimps charged with what some call modern day slavery.
“If you’re not careful with how it’s crafted you can end up making prostitution a felony, which we really don’t want to go down that road,” State Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll County), said. “There were just some issues that the Judiciary was raising.”
Currently, human trafficking of adults is classified as a misdemeanor in Maryland. Experts have said Maryland is a “hot bed” for sex trafficking, especially along the Interstate 95 corridor.
Ready said a companion bill in the House was unlikely to pass.
He added that lawmakers would revisit the measure next year.
Four people were convicted of human trafficking in Maryland circuit courts in 2014. There were also 217 violations of misdemeanor human trafficking and 32 cases of aiding and abetting sex traffickers heard in district courts in 2014.
Just last week, police netted two arrests from a sex trafficking sting in Woodlawn .
They claim underage girls were driven by their two pimps who expected them to make money from sex.
Charging documents for 25-year-old Matthew Brown and 30-year-old Anthony Eley say the two defendants picked up the girls — ages 14, 16 and 17 from North Avenue in the city.
Brown is the son of well-known Baltimore attorney Warren Brown .
And there was this bust last summer.
The In Focus team was there when two women were freed from a sex trafficking ring at the Holiday Inn Express in North East, Cecil County.
The hotel owner noticed something was off when a man and two women checked in.
A few minutes later, when the man went out to the car, one of the women saw her break.
She ran to the front desk and told the owner what happened.
He hid her in a room and called police.
Germaine Wiggins , 34, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and human trafficking.
It’s in a central location with a major highway—Interstate 95—that makes access to major cities like Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia easy, according to the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force.
Rod Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland, said human trafficking cases are more likely to crop up around urban areas and communities that are more transient in nature.
“We see it more in communities that are in flux, and a lot of people are coming in and out of Maryland,” Rosenstein said. “There is I-95, though obviously, that’s not unique to Maryland.”
A human trafficking case involving two young girls came to light earlier this month, when the son of prominent Baltimore defense attorney Warren Brown was charged with the crime.
Police arrested Matthew Warren Brown, 25, and Anthony Leon Eley, Jr., 30, after undercover officers lured three underage girls to an undisclosed hotel room in the county. Brown and Eley reportedly drove the teenage girls to the meet up.
Maryland had 135 cases of human trafficking in 2014, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. It ranks 10th among all 50 states.
“People think it’s all foreign nationals, but it’s not,” said Alicia McDowell, executive director of Araminta Freedom Initiative, which works to stop human trafficking.
As many as 70 percent of human trafficking incidents occur in truck stops, the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force says. State law requires all truck stops, rest areas and bus stations to post information about the NHTRC’s hotline.
Rosenstein said authorities are seeing more reports of human trafficking since the dawn of the Internet.
“It makes it so easy for buyers and sellers to find each other,” he said. “Before, they had to meet one another in person. It also breaks down the sexual inhibitions of children and teenagers.”
Parents need to remain vigilant and aware of what their children are doing online, Rosenstein said. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention will host a conference on human trafficking on May 28 at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Catonsville campus.
Combatting human trafficking emerged as a big priority in last year’s General Assembly session, with several bills proposed.
Two of the proposals passed, including a law that makes abduction of a child under the age of 16 for the purpose of committing a sexual crime a felony, rather than a misdemeanor. A second law established the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program for victims of human trafficking.
This year, state lawmakers debated a proposed bill that would have made human trafficking a felony in Maryland.
But lawmakers were concerned the wording could turn prostitution into a felony as well, and the bill was rejected.