Sex trafficking in Prince George’s County has been dealt a  severe blow with new legislation introduced to fine property owners, landlords, and tenants whose properties are used for prostitution.

The Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force, in conjunction with the Workgroup to Study introduced by Councilmember Deni Taveras (D-Adelphi), Council Bill 59-2016. This bill expands and clarifies laws connected to sex trafficking, which many believe will protect those vulnerable to traffickers.

Councilmember Deni Taveras introduced a bill to strengthen the laws against sex trafficking in the county. (Courtesy Photo)

Councilmember Deni Taveras introduced a bill to strengthen the laws against sex trafficking in the county. (Courtesy Photo)

The County’s Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking reported that as of Feb. 27, 2015, Juvenile Services had 2,219 juvenile admissions to designated female detention facilities. Of these 2,219 admissions, 73 youth ranging from 14 to 19 years of age were confirmed as victims of human sex trafficking.  Because of Maryland’s position between several East Coast metropolitan areas and the presence of major interstate highways through the state, Maryland has become a hot spot for human traffickers.

In 2014, the Victims Services Committee of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force found “396 survivors of human trafficking” in Maryland, 124 of whom were trafficked as children (175 did not report age).  Additionally, the Human Trafficking Hotline identified 422 Marylanders calling between January and October 2016 from victims of sex trafficking, seeking help; and 121 actual cases reported.  In August 2016, Prince George’s County Police charged 3 people with operating a sex trafficking ring involving more than 40 victims – several of whom were juveniles.

Working largely from motels and hotels throughout Maryland, trafficking, according to the legislation, has moved steadily into residential neighborhoods and apartment complexes.  The enhanced legislation addresses landlords, owners, management staff, or tenants, whose property is used for prostitution, including human trafficking. Taveras proposed the bill after receiving complaints from several Langley Park-area mothers, who said units in their apartment buildings were being used as brothels and the property managers knew about it.

“This can only stop when the property owner feels the pain and curtail this kind of activity,” Taveras said. “This is a mechanism that holds the entire chain of individuals, not just the pimp, responsible for what happens at these apartments.”

Shauna Eccles, a resident from Landover, Md. told the AFRO that several of her daughter’s friends had been approached by men around local strip malls to ‘hang out,’ seeming to proposition them for sex. Though the girls said they did not feel threatened, they suspected there was open prostitution in the area.

“It’s scary because young girls are gullible and vulnerable in many cases; they do not know when these professional hustlers are really trying to harm them,” Eccles said.  “To think that your daughter or son could be snatched or recruited within your own apartments or that your building has units where prostitution is taking place, is very unsettling.”

The bill makes it a misdemeanor to “knowingly” allow use of an apartment or home for prostitution or trafficking, punishable with a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. It passed the council unanimously on Nov. 15 and a spokesman for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said he will sign it into law.

“If we are going to eradicate human trafficking in Prince George’s County, it is important that there is a level of accountability for those who are found to be complicit,” Taveras said. “CB-59 sends a strong message that if you allow human trafficking to take place on your property, you will be held accountable.”