Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Belltown) has been spearheading several bills to help combat the sex trafficking of minors.
Kohl-Welles helps push through more anti-sex trafficking bills
Human trafficking isn't getting any breaks in the Washington State Senate. 36th District's Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Belltown) and others have been hard at work pushing through bills to prevent and stifle the problem.
On Monday, March 4, the Senate passed two bills to crack down on traffickign minors for commercial sex: SB 5488, sponsored by Kohl-Welles, and SB 5669, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley).
SB 5488 is Kohl-Welles' second attempt on penalizing online sex trafficking. It would impose an additional $5,000 fine on top of existing penalties when online ads are used for sex trafficking of minors. The money would go toward the state's prostitution prevention and intervention account.
SB 5669 would expand the definition of crimes related to sex trafficking and strengthen penalties against abusers.
Both bills passed unanimously.
“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, a co-sponsor of the measure.
Kohl-Welles got a bill unanimously passed last session specifically targeted at Bakpage.com and similar online outlets where adult escort ads were repeatedly linked to the sex trafficking of minors. That legislation made such advertising illegal, but it was struck down by a federal judge who ruled that it violated the Federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 -- an Act which Kohl-Welles has since said is hugely outdated and does not encompass how the Internet has evolved in the new millennium.
Kohl-Welles is also working on Senate Joint Memorial 8003, which would have the legislature request Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act. But, until such an amendment is made, HB 5488 is an attempt to attack the problem from a different angle, by shifting the focus to the user. It also repeals the now-ineffective SB 6251.
Padden's bill would expand 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.
“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.”
Earlier in the session, yet another bill was passed, SB 5308, on Feb. 27. It would establish the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Statewide Coordinating Committee, which would examine laws and practices that address sexually exploited chilren on both the local and regional levels. After reviewing, the committee would also make recommendations to better combat the issue. HB 5308 was also passed unanimously by the Senate.
While all of this may not be a good sign for human traffickers, undoubtedly Kohl-Welles sees that there is more work to do. In an interview with the Ballard News-Tribune earlier in the year, she said that it was unlikely they could ever wholly halt human trafficking. But, she said, she would do all in her power to help prevent it.
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