Accused pimps and sex traffickers who could face decades behind bars under Massachusetts law often are being allowed to plead down to less time and reduced charges, with more than half of convictions netting minimum sentences or less, the Boston Herald reports. The softer sentencing patterns come five years after lawmakers passed a much-ballyhooed sex-trafficking law billed as a get-tough measure on criminals driving the sex trade. Prosecutors and victim advocates say the sentences highlight the long-standing challenge in bringing complex cases reliant on vulnerable and sometimes reluctant victims.
The law called for sentences of five to 20 years for those convicted of trafficking, and up to life for those who prostitute minors. A Herald review of 32 trafficking cases statewide found 21 defendants in a position to serve the minimum five-year sentence or less, with three getting outright probation. At least 18 times defendants took pleas to reduced charges — avoiding a human-trafficking conviction entirely. The average sentence of all reviewed cases fell between four and five-and-a-half years. State Sen. Mark Montigny, the bill’s chief sponsor, called the results “abysmal,” and exactly what he was trying to avoid when he drafted the law. “Never once in my career have I put a mandatory minimum in a bill, but in trafficking of children, I put one in because I didn’t want to see plea-bargaining down,” said Montigny, who decried what he called a “societal ignorance” around the seriousness of the sex trade. “It’s unbelievable. … Not much has changed. And I’m so disappointed in that.” Before the bill passed in 2011, Massachusetts was one of just three states without a human trafficking law, and law enforcement officials at the time bemoaned the lack of the teeth in the laws to punish and deter pimps.