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We continue to do harm to survivors through lack of resources, recognition of violence

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland, press release issued following his initial trial in 2013,

Jeremy Naughton, a/k/a “Jerms Black,” age 32, of Brooklyn, New York, [was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz] to 36 years in prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for conspiring to commit sex trafficking, four counts of sex trafficking, six counts of transporting an individual to engage in prostitution and using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

It was the “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” part that landed Naughton back in front of Judge Motz on the afternoon of February 16, 2016.

The original 36-year sentence was a combination of a 29-year sentence for the trafficking- and prostitution-related offenses, in addition to a 7-year sentence for violating a federal statute, known as section 924(c), prohibiting “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.”

Last August, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (of which Maryland is a part), overturned a similar 924(c) conviction, writing that it was “not persuaded that the ordinary case of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion involves a substantial risk that the defendant will use physical force as a means to commit the offense.”

In other words, the Court did not find that sex trafficking, in and of itself, was a “crime of violence.”

Given the Court of Appeals decision, Naughton was scheduled for resentencing to determine whether the additional 7 years related to “using a gun during the conspiracy to commit sex trafficking” would stand. In the end, it did not, and the resentencing actually resulted in an even greater reduction in sentence, from the original 36 years to 22.

Naughton addressed the court, and the judge seemed convinced that he was taking advantage of the programming available to him through the Bureau of Prisons and stood before the court these 2½ years later a different man.

Since there is simply no way to tell for sure in such a brief encounter in a courtroom the extent of authentic change, the reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions, but what did seem a sad irony is the vast gulf between services available to those convicted of the crime of sex trafficking and those who are their victims.

We have come a long way in our desire to treat victims of sex trafficking as just that – victims – instead of criminalizing them. The noble intent of that is to provide wrap-around services to support survivors as they work to rebuild their lives.

The sad reality is that there are not enough services, and very little funding to support the services that do exist.

Through the Bureau of Prisons, Naughton has access to counseling and psychological services, medical services, postsecondary education, and specialized programming to address his individual needs. All of this is good. After all, one of Araminta’s core values is that the restoration of all individuals involved in sex trafficking is possible. This restoration, however, does not come at the expense of consequences for one’s actions.

What is untenable is that Naughton’s victims – more than 10 of whom testified at his trial – do not have access to these same kinds of services. As public awareness about this issue has increased and coordination efforts have improved, the number of victims identified by members of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Victims Services Subcommittee has only increased. What has not changed in this same time is the amount of services available, nor the funding to support such services.

Laws have been passed in the Maryland General Assembly, but primarily having to do with criminal penalties.

When asset forfeiture was proposed, it was seen as a way to support law enforcement and victim services efforts related to trafficking, but when it passed in 2013, it was without specific instructions as to how the seized assets of convicted traffickers should be distributed. Only Howard County has specifically designated a portion to victim services as of this past year.

Last year, the General Assembly established a working group to consider Safe Harbor laws intended to address the inconsistent treatment of child victims and ensure that they are provided appropriate services and not criminalized.

This would be a major step toward better protecting our children and providing for the specialized services survivors of trafficking require, but despite having recommendations from the working group, it looks like yet another session will pass without any such legislation.

While convicted traffickers are able to choose from a variety of services to try to get their lives together, the reality in Maryland is that those same opportunities are not afforded to the victims of these traffickers. And time is not on our side. While convicted traffickers have years to transform into contributing members of society, their victims have to figure that out now in the midst of trauma, triggering events, navigating complex systems, and so much more.

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