LITTLE ROCK — Kathy Bryan says she was forced into sexual slavery as a 15-year-old.

LITTLE ROCK — Kathy Bryan says she was forced into sexual slavery as a 15-year-old.

Her testimony before state lawmakers Tuesday about a two-year odyssey of violent sexual abuse provided a poignant backdrop to a legislative study of human trafficking and possible efforts to replace the state’s limited statute with more comprehensive legislation.

Bryan, of Heber Springs, told members of the Senate Committee on Children and Youth she was living in Virginia Beach, Va., when she began encountering a man while walking to and from a friend’s house in the “nice, middle-income suburb” where they lived. The man befriended her and, flattered by his attention, she came to think they were dating, she said.

About three weeks into what she thought of as a relationship, she was at the man’s home when a man she did not know came out from under the stairwell and both men assaulted her.

“For about the next two hours they just systematically raped and sodomized me,” Bryan said.

Afterward, she said, the man she had trusted gave her instructions about where to meet him the next day and implied that if she did not do as she was told, her family would be harmed.

For the next two years, Bryan was used sexually, sometimes violently, by various people in various homes — a victim of what is known as residential trafficking.

“Human trafficking takes on many faces,” she said. “It’s not just the girl getting off the (plane) in Greece. It’s not just the girl being smuggled across the border. It’s not just the girl that we think is a prostitute on the corner.”

The people who victimized Bryan were never prosecuted. She said that when she got away from them at 17, she did not want to look back.

Although the crimes against her occurred in Virginia, Bryan said similar cases have occurred in her current home state of Arkansas, where human trafficking has been reported in 69 cities.

Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, has drafted a 32-page bill on human trafficking and has requested an interim study in advance of the legislative session that starts in January. The study proposal will go before the state Legislative Council on July 20, but Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said she wanted the committee that she chairs to start discussing the issue now.

James Dold of Polaris Project, a Washington-based organization that fights human trafficking, testified that Arkansas’ 2005 law against human trafficking, which makes it a Class A felony, leaves room for improvement.

Dold said the existing law gives too broad a definition of human trafficking, does not include a provision allowing people convicted of human trafficking to be ordered to pay restitution and does not make a distinction between people who force victims into sexual slavery and people who facilitate human trafficking in other ways.

Meeks’ proposal, which is based on a model by Polaris Project, would address those issues. It also would require the creation of a task force that would develop a plan for preventing human trafficking.

The draft bill also would require that certain services be provided to victims, including protection from reprisal for them and their families, and would require the national human trafficking hotline to be posted in a number of public places such as strip clubs, airports, train stations and highway rest stops.

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, expressed some reservations about the length and complexity of the proposal.

“I prefer the succinct,” she said.

Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, said he has read that some adult-oriented businesses along interstate highways are involved in human trafficking.

“I would like to see this committee and all of us interested in this idea consider making it very hard for some of these facilities to even be in our communities, and if they are going to be there that we monitor what’s going on in such a way that they are strictly regulated,” he said.

A number of advocates for abused women were in the audience for the hearing. Irvin assured them that “we’ve heard you.”

“Today is the start of a new day in Arkansas,” she said.


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