Human Trafficking of a Vulnerable Adult in Utah

Utah Human Trafficking laws up for amendments involving a vulnerable adult may cause legal trouble to those who are caring for a friend with mental illness or addiction. The Utah Human Trafficking laws are meant to catch and prosecute those who are practicing a modern version of slavery, but it can be misapplied to something as simple as expecting a ”live-In” friend with a drug addiction to clean the house in order to live at the residence.

Increased focus to stop human trafficking

Photo by: Imagens Evangélicas

Human trafficking has become a major problem in the United States. Human trafficking can take on several faces such as transporting a person across state lines without their permission, forced prostitution or forced employment. This growing crime is on many law makers’ radar and most states have made changes to their current laws to address this problem. There are several new advocacy groups forming and many panel discussions to bring this problem to the forefront as well as increased education into the matter.

Training for professionals

In the effort to combat human trafficking, one beneficial step is to train those in certain employments to recognize the signs of a trafficked person. Some of those professions being encouraged to receive training on how to spot human traffickers or their victims are:

Truck drivers: Many states are requiring training on human trafficking in order to receive their CDL licenses. The hope is that truck drivers will see instances of people being transported against their will. Most rest areas and truck stops now have signs posted regarding human trafficking.

Medical professionals: Physicians are another occupation encouraged to receive training. Many people that have escaped from their captors had received medical care during their captivity. Doctors and nurses can see signs of abuse while treating a patient. They can also see signs of repeated abortions, STD’s, or infections which are all indications of a victim of human trafficking.

Law enforcement: Police officers are also important in the fight against human trafficking. Officers can be aware of the disconcerting interaction between two people. One example would be if a person has an attitude of servitude or fear when bailing out another.

Vulnerable adult

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Along with educating the public and certain professionals, laws regarding human trafficking have been amended to include protection for overlooked victims. In January House Bill 20 was amended to clarify the language for human trafficking and to add an offense for trafficking a vulnerable adult. The new bill for a vulnerable adult reads: “Human trafficking of a vulnerable adult for forced labor” while one place of forced labor is defined as being in “households”. According to Utah House Bill 0020:
“Vulnerable adult” means an elder adult, or an adult 18 years of age or older who has a mental or physical impairment which substantially affects that person’s ability to:
(i) provide personal protection;
(ii) provide necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, or medical or other health care;
(iii) obtain services necessary for health, safety, or welfare;
(iv) carry out the activities of daily living;
(v) manage the adult’s own resources; or
(vi) comprehend the nature and consequences of remaining in a situation of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.”

With this addition to the human trafficking laws, it is possible that those responsible for looking out for the best interest of vulnerable adults such as medical professionals and law enforcement may misunderstand the dynamic of the home in which the vulnerable adult has been allowed to live.

Forced labor or earning your keep

With a push to end a societal problem, there are instances when innocent people can often be labeled as criminal human traffickers. There are many individuals in Utah who are struggling with a mental illness or a drug addiction that could cause them to be defined as a vulnerable adult. Family members or friends attempting to care for their struggling loved ones may face criminal charges if, in an attempt to help their loved one feel productive by pitching in around the house, they force them to perform household chores in order to “earn their keep”. While those carrying for a mentally ill or addicted vulnerable adult could feel they are serving that individual by encouraging productiveness, Utah law may see it as the vulnerable adult being forced to serve them. Anyone facing any charges stemming from their willingness to help a vulnerable adult are encouraged to seek immediate legal counsel from a qualified defense attorney.

Damage to or Interruption of a Communication Device in Utah

Some crimes sound fairly minor, but they can wreak havoc on a person’s criminal record. Damage to or interruption of a communication device sounds like a lesser crime but is a class B misdemeanor and can be a common occurrence in domestic disputes.

Communication Device

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Utah Code 76-6-S108 defines a communication device as “. . . any device, including a telephone, cellular telephone, computer, or radio, which may be used in an attempt to summon police, fire, medical, or other emergency aid.. . Emergency aid means aid or assistance, including law enforcement, fire, or medical services, commonly summoned by persons concerned with imminent or actual:
• jeopardy to any person’s health or safety; or
• damage to any person’s property.”

Domestic disputes

There are many instances in which someone may damage or interrupt a communication device without malicious intent. For example, during an argument, a husband may decide their wife is losing control and may get violent. Husband tells wife that he is going to call the police. Wife realizes she is sounding out of control, but knows her temper is in check, so she grabs the phone and keeps it away from husband, wanting to explain the situation. Later, the police show up and arrest wife for damage to or interruption of a communications device.

Interruption of a communication device

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Regardless of the person’s intentions, section 76-6-S108 states: “a person is guilty of damage to or interruption of a communication device if the actor attempts to prohibit or interrupt, or prohibits or interrupts, another person’s use of a communication device when the other person is attempting to summon emergency aid or has communicated a desire to summon emergency aid, and in the process the actor:

a) uses force, intimidation, or any other form of violence;
b) destroys, disables, or damages a communication device; or
c) commits any other act in an attempt to prohibit or interrupt the person’s use of a communication device to summon emergency aid.”

Damage to or interruption of a communication device is a class B misdemeanor which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of no more than six months.

Legal counsel

While there are many instances of damage to or interruption of a communication device that are done with ill intent, there are also many times when it is just a misunderstanding with no knowledge of the severity of the situation. For any charges related to a domestic disturbance that may or may not have been misinterpreted, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney prior to police questioning.

Free Range Parenting in Utah – Then and Now

Free range parenting might seem like a new and lenient idea to many residents in Utah, however they may not remember how things were when they or even their parents were younger.

Leave it to Beaver

Photo by: Rennett Stowe

Remember watching the old shows on TV; the children would get up in the morning and race out the door for a day of unsupervised adventure. Meanwhile Aunt Bea or June Cleaver would be in a dress with an apron: cooking, cleaning, visiting, or gossiping – with no idea what the children were doing. Sometimes the adventures were calm even uplifting, sometimes the adventures were dangerous – Think “Lassie is Timmy in the well”. Outside of TV shows, everyday grade school children played outside until the street lights came on and were even asked to ride their bike to the corner convenience store to pick up milk or missing ingredients. Never seen in TV or reality were the adults getting arrested or have their children taken away for lack of supervision.

Latch-Key Kids

By the 1980’s several families became duo incomes. The latch-key child was born. No longer did the kids yell out “hey mom I’m going out to play. I’ll be back before dark.” The TV became the baby-sitter, children were not seen outside exploring and having adventures but they were watching the adventures of the prior generation’s children. Additionally, concern over child safety increased and so did the laws to protect the children. Parents were worried for the safety of their children and insisted they be home and answer the phone whenever the parent called to check on them.

Helicopter Mom

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In the early 2000’s many families had both parents working. Stricter laws made parents leery to leave a grade-schooler alone in the home, even for a brief trip to the grocery store to buy milk. Children were seldom out of the parent’s sight for if an accident happened, there was the fear of being deemed neglectful. Adventures were always adult supervised and thus the Helicopter Mom was born. Some parents were so filled with fraught that even having the child out of sight in a public place for more than two minutes left a fear that someone might see it as an open invitation to harming the child.

Free Range Parenting

Recently the growing concern over the lack of independence in children became a movement. Free-range parenting has been increasing in popularity. Parents want their children to have freedom along with increased responsibilities. Many feel self-esteem, imagination, and responsibility are born from teaching a child, and then let them out on their own. Instead of mom’s hovering, children are being encouraged to stretch their wings and fly.

Utah Child Neglect Amendments

Photo by: Anne Worner

Utah child neglect laws were amended March 15, 2018 to give more freedom for those in favor of free range parenting. The Amendment lists several activities that are acceptable in relationship with the maturity of the child. Included are: being left unattended in a motor vehicle; riding a bike or walking to and from school or playground; being left home alone, etc. The difficulty arises in determining the maturity of the child. One person believes the child is mature enough to ride the bike to the corner store for milk, while another person may see the child as too immature to have that responsibility.

Parental and legal discernment

Some people embrace new or resurrected theories and are excited to try the concept out on themselves and on their family. Other people are slow to change and do not want vary from what they had one in the past. What one sees as acceptable another sees as neglect. Although not all families are ready to let their children experience more unsupervised freedom, those that are should use careful discernment to decide if their child is mature enough. Those Utah parents taking advantage of this new freedom should be warned however that by not specifying an exact age of when a child is old enough to be left alone, the new free range parenting laws leave that discernment not only up to the parent but the police should they be involved. If any legal trouble arises due to a parent exerting their freedom in how they choose to raise their child, contact a reputable criminal defense attorney to discuss the legal freedoms of the new free range parenting laws.