AUGUSTA — A new Maine law aims to crack down on human trafficking, a problem supporters of the legislation say is growing but often unnoticed.

The law ceremonially signed by Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday expands the definition of human trafficking to include more crimes that involve the victimization of someone for profit. It also renames the promotion of prostitution to “sex trafficking.”

Supporters say it will provide law enforcement with more tools to go after criminals and also change the way the public perceives and treats victims of sex trafficking.

During the signing ceremony, LePage, flanked by advocates and law enforcement officials, said there are “few bills that I take as much pleasure in signing.”

There are no statewide numbers available that track the extent of human trafficking in Maine. But prosecutors in southern Maine have found that human trafficking is a much larger problem than they ever realized, said Meg Elam, Deputy District Attorney for Cumberland County. In the several years since they’ve focused on the issue, they’ve seen victims from Aroostook, Penobscot, Somerset and Cumberland counties, she said.

“The perception that this is a city problem is just not true because anywhere there’s an Internet there’s an opportunity for entrepreneurial criminals to exploit … underage women and men for profit,” Elam said.

The law also clarifies that it’s a crime to promote the prostitution of a person who suffers from a mental disability. People with repeated convictions of sex trafficking or similar crimes can now also face up to five years in jail or a $5,000 fine.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mark Dion of Portland and goes into effect in about 90 days.

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