This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Linda Smith, a former Washington lawmaker who has become a prominent opponent of sex-trafficking, recounted a shocking perversion of justice while testifying in Congress last October.
In 2006, a Nevada police officer reported catching a female in a truck “engaging in an act of prostitution” with the truck driver.
As Smith paraphrased the police report, “A 12-year-old girl was handcuffed, placed under arrest and transported to the juvenile detention facility in Las Vegas. The man, nearly 48 years old, was allowed to drive away.”
The sequel: “The child is now turning 15 years old and is again in juvenile detention under prostitution-related charges,” said Smith. “Her pimp reclaimed her after she was released the first time …”
Twelve-year-old handcuffed; 48-year-old john waved off. It turns the stomach.
Smith, who leads Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization she founded in 1998, helped persuade the 2010 Legislature to pass a bill that should make such travesties less likely, at least in this state.
Signed into law last week, the bill dramatically increases the risks for “commercial abuse of a minor,” upping it from a class C to a class B felony. That could have landed the 48-year-old trucker in prison for as many as 12 years.
“Promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor” will go from a class B to a class A felony. That could have landed the pimp in prison for more than 26 years.
Another provision requires that the suspected john’s vehicle be immediately impounded, which would get a truck driver’s attention. Nor could the john or the pimp get off the hook by claiming not to know the girl’s age.
Under the new law, prostituted minors would not be treated as juvenile offenders when first arrested; they would be “diverted” to social services designed to help them escape the street and the pimps. Heavy fines on the perpetrators would help fund those services.
The law promises to make a small, local dent in a massive, hideous, international industry. This isn’t something that happens only in Bangkok or Manila. Shared Hope International estimates that at least 100,000 children – average age, 13 – are forced into the trade every year in America. They may be raped, exploited in child pornography sold on the street, or all of the above.
The consequences of exploitation don’t automatically evaporate at the age of 18. Those who think that adult prostitutes all got into the trade by choice might want to ask one of them when they first started selling sex.
In October, a three-day sweep coordinated by the FBI rescued 52 prostituted children from their pimps and arrested nearly 700 suspected traffickers and other predators. One of the children was found in Everett, eight in Seattle. The slavery goes on under our noses.
Common sense suggests that many, many more children have yet to be rescued. Washington’s new sex-trafficking legislation promises to make that a little easier.