WA Senate Passes Kohl-Welles, Padden Bills to Crack Down on Sex Trafficking of Minors

OLYMPIA, March 4, 2013 — “The Washington State Senate today passed two bills to crack down on the trafficking of minors for commercial sex: Senate Bill 5488, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Senate Bill 5669, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

SB 5488 would impose an additional $5,000 fine on top of existing penalties when someone uses online ads to facilitate the crime of commercial sexual abuse of a minor and dedicate the money to the state’s prostitution prevention and intervention account. The bill passed unanimously.

SB 5669 is a more sweeping piece of legislation that would expand the definition of crimes related to the sex-trafficking of children and strengthen penalties for those convicted. It also passed unanimously.

“Sex traffickers have so far been able to exploit the parameters of online advertising through Backpage.com and similar outlets,” Kohl-Welles said of SB 5488. “This bill can help us reverse that trend and better hold them accountable for their actions.”

Kohl-Welles’ bill would apply the $5,000 penalty in cases where an internet advertisement that described or depicted the victim is shown to have been instrumental in facilitating commercial sexual abuse of a minor, promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, or promoting travel for commercial sexual abuse of a minor. The legislation has the support of the state Attorney General, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and representatives of the Seattle Police Department and the King County Sheriff’s Office, among many others.

“Every year we have to come up with a response to some new way that people, especially children, are being victimized, and SB 5488 is an example,” said Padden, who co-sponsored the measure and made sure it received a public hearing and a vote from the Senate Law and Justice Committee, of which he is chairman.

In this application, SB 5488 defines an internet advertisement as a statement in electronic media that would be understood by a reasonable person to be an implicit or explicit offer for sexual contact or sexual intercourse in exchange for something of value.

This bill continues longstanding efforts by Kohl-Welles to crack down on sex trafficking of minors via online media. Legislation she sponsored last session passed the Legislature unanimously targeted Backpage.com and similar online outlets whose adult escort ads have been linked repeatedly to trafficking in sex with minors.  However, SB 6251, which created a new crime of advertising commercial sexual abuse of minors, was struck down by a federal judge who ruled it violated the Federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 because it targeted the online service provider rather than those using the service. SB 5488 shifts the focus to the user and also repeals SB 6251.

Padden’s bill is a comprehensive measure that would change state anti-trafficking laws to include expanding the definition of “communication with a minor for immoral purposes” to cover the purchase or sale of commercial sex acts and sex trafficking; adding to the definition of first- and second-degree trafficking; and making the penalties for those who patronize child prostitutes stronger.

SB 5669 also would add trafficking and commercial sexual abuse of a child to the list of sex offenses that require sex-offender registration and the list of crimes that can trigger charges under the state’s criminal profiteering law.

“The goal of all this is to give those in law enforcement and our justice system the tools they need to combat the sex-trafficking industry as it continues to evolve,” said Padden, who served 12 years as a Spokane County District Court judge before he was elected to the Senate from the 4th Legislative District in 2011.

“Online sex trafficking of minors is a devastating and steadily growing crime that victimizes minors in communities across our state,” Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor, said of SB 5669. “We need to do whatever it takes to deter criminals from these destructive acts, and this is a much-needed step forward.”

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