HB1198 Signed Into Law

 In Advocacy

It’s rare for a bill to sail through the legislature.

But this February HB1198 did just that.

As the bill’s primary sponsor, Doug Barthel, had a singular goal: to define coercion. In 2014, South Dakota’s legislature adopted the standard language found in anti-human trafficking laws across the country, specifically that “force, fraud, or coercion” was used to entrap victims.

It was a positive step, but as victims have come forward in the years since, law enforcement officials came to a realization — to prosecute traffickers successfully in South Dakota, they were going to need a clearer definition of coercion.

“Traffickers know the law and its loopholes,” explains Barthel, who also served as police chief in Sioux Falls for 12 years. “Coercion doesn’t always take the form of verbal or physical aggression. Many times it’s subtle acts such as a pimp providing — or withholding — drugs to manipulate a woman’s compliance.”

That’s certainly true among CTF’s clients. “All of our clients have a story of being controlled through nonviolent means — their finances, threats to family members, debts they suddenly owe — the list goes on. It was time to do something,” explains CTF’s Executive Director Becky Rasmussen.

She consulted Sarah Bendtsen at Shared Hope International, an organization dedicated to eradicating sex trafficking worldwide. An attorney, Bendtsen serves as policy council for Shared Hope, advising grassroots advocates on legislative matters.

“Our current definition of coercion is definitely broad enough to include nonviolent means of control, but that’s not what we’re seeing across the country,” Bendtsen says. “The forms of evidence we consider when thinking over coercion need to include things that may have been set aside before.”

Rasmussen shared her concerns with Barthel, whose law enforcement experience matched what she was seeing among CTF’s clients. “We used to look at a prostitute as a person with a free will, but a few years ago we realized that there’s a story behind nearly all of them,” says Barthel.

A big part of HB1198’s success was the testimony of a CTF client, who courageously shared her story before a legislative committee. In addition, the members of the committee also heard testimony from Rasmussen and a representative from The Naomi Project, a local group that combats labor trafficking. The committee unanimously referred the bill to the full House of Representatives where Barthel summarized their stories before the votes were cast.

“The survivor testimony in particular was very powerful,” said Barthel.

On the Senate side, Jack Kolbeck from District 13 sponsored the bill, which went uncontested in both chambers of the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Noem on March 7. It goes into effect July 1.

Barthel worked closely with Jon Hansen, a Dell Rapids attorney and District 25 representative, to craft the bill’s language. He also gathered input from the district and state’s attorney’s offices.

 

“We don’t want this crime anywhere, but at the very least, we don’t want it in our state,” says Barthel. “This gives us better tools to enforce the law and put a stop to trafficking in South Dakota.”

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