A proposal to more harshly punish pimps who advertise underage girls on the Internet cleared the state Senate Monday.
Senate Bill 5488 would impose a mandatory $5,000 fine on anyone convicted of commercial sexual abuse of a minor or promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor. The fine would be in addition to prison time and other standard penalties already associated with those felonies.
“What we need to do, ladies and gentlemen, is to do everything possible to send a message to traffickers, to pimps, that our children are not for sale,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We will not put up with this. We will do everything we can to end this terrible crime that ruins our kids’ lives.”
The bill is the Legislature’s latest attempt to crack down on the promotion of underage prostitutes on the Internet classified site Backpage.com. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow the state to prosecute Internet sites like Backpage for knowingly publishing ads featuring underage prostitutes.
But before the 2012 law could take effect, Backpage sued the state, saying that federal laws limit Internet service providers’ responsibility for what their users post. A federal judge granted the website’s request for an injunction, and the state didn’t appeal the decision.
Kohl-Welles called this year’s bill “a new approach.”
“All involved have agreed that this would pass constitutional muster,” Kohl-Welles said.
The bill passed the Senate on a 49-0 vote.
Also receiving Senate approval was Senate Bill 5669, which would prevent those charged with commercial sexual abuse of a minor from using the minor’s consent in the prostitution scheme as a defense.
Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that adolescents are easily manipulated and become attached to dominate figures like pimps, and may not always fight back against them. That shouldn’t impact how such criminals are prosecuted, he said.
“Basically, a minor should not be able to consent to be sold into sexual slavery — that’s what it comes down to,” Padden said.
Padden’s bill also passed the Senate unanimously.
Both proposals will now go to the House.