On September 1, Texas will become the first state to make buying sex from prostitutes a felony. This is a shift away from blaming the prostitutes and placing the concentrate on “johns” in an try to mitigate human trafficking. The legislation makes the crime a state jail felony.
House Bill 1540 handed the House and Senate unanimously in the course of the spring legislative session. It is the first state legislation within the nation that makes it a felony to purchase sex from an grownup. The invoice additionally expands the definition of human trafficking which is a first-degree felony in Texas. It contains those that recruit trafficking victims from locations like residential therapy facilities. Adults exploit homeless minors and foster kids in these amenities who’re being handled for violence and assault. They prey on essentially the most susceptible. The invoice is an try to deter human trafficking. Sex trafficking stays a massive drawback in Texas, significantly in Houston, even throughout the pandemic.
Though the Legislature has adopted a variety of measures in current periods geared toward lowering sex trafficking, the unlawful commerce stays prevalent in Texas, significantly Houston. Sex trafficking has spiked in Texas in the course of the COVID pandemic, in accordance to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that recorded a 40 p.c uptick in calls to its sex trafficking hotline final 12 months in contrast with 2019.
Thompson’s invoice included a number of suggestions from the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, a group shaped by the Legislature in 2009 that features members from greater than 50 companies and organizations and is run by the lawyer common.
Among the provisions that can take impact subsequent month is one that enables state officers to deny a liquor license to institutions that observe so-called drink solicitation, when staff reminiscent of bartenders cost marked-up costs for drinks in change for spending time with a buyer.
The observe is taken into account a gateway to sex trafficking and different crimes.
The legislation additionally establishes a Class A misdemeanor cost — punishable with up to a 12 months in jail — for individuals who trespass on therapy heart properties. The activity drive notes a want for extra safety for minors at therapy amenities. It says pimps freely strategy minors on the grounds of therapy facilities and promote them medicine.
Jamey Caruthers, an lawyer for the Houston nonprofit Children At Risk, famous in the course of the March committee listening to that the provisions of the invoice that heighten penalties for drug crimes at residential therapy facilities apply solely to these 18 and older, which means minors are exempt.
“These are kids with severe emotional problems, behavioral problems and substance abuse problems,” Caruthers stated. “What we’re really after here are the pimps that are in the parking lot with a bag of weed waiting for a kid to come out, offering a ride. The next time that child is seen will probably be on a website … where ads are posted for buyers to purchase victims.”
House Bill 1540 is receiving consideration, not simply because it offers extra safety for minors in therapy facilities but additionally as a result of the johns will obtain harsher penalties as a determent in opposition to buying or soliciting sex. The most sentence for a first offense is doubled from one to two years and it turns into a third-degree felony for these beforehand convicted of the crime. Third-degree felonies carry sentences of 2-10 years in jail. State jail felonies carry a penalty of 180 days to 2 years.
Will this strategy truly assist ease the issue of human trafficking? The opinions from individuals who work within the justice system and with victims are combined. Most agree it is sensible to punish the individuals buying sex, perpetuating a demand, moderately than the prostitutes, who are sometimes within the scenario due to a vulnerability that led them into the world of human trafficking. The thought is to provide rehabilitation to those that are trafficked and assist in getting their lives on monitor as a substitute of specializing in authorized punishment.
“This law is a rethinking of the traditional supply side in prosecutions that tended to target the women who were involved in these activities and not the buyers,” stated Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute on the University of Houston Law School. “It’s also coming from a growing awareness that oftentimes, those involved are from a vulnerable class.”
She stated the legislation additionally aligns with comparable approaches across the nation like providing sex staff pretrial diversions, which permits them to undergo various sentencing choices moderately than spending time in jail or jail. The intent is to concentrate on rehabilitation moderately than on the punishment, she stated.
“It’s really unfair to someone who is a victim to prosecute them rather than try to help them escape their situation and get their lives back on track,” she stated, including that the legislation might function a mannequin to different states that could be contemplating comparable measures.
Instead of a slap on the wrist and a positive for pimps, the legislation will enable it to be a state felony that carries jail time. An opposing view is that arresting johns does nothing for individuals who are sex trafficked. It could tie up victims in courtroom and it reduces the assets they want. A professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School says the legislation could also be well-intentioned but it surely truly harms the victims.
“Putting individual ‘johns’ in jail will do absolutely nothing for victims of trafficking,” she stated. “In fact, it harms them because evidence demonstrates that the more resources that go into law enforcement approach, the more that victims lose because resources that ought to be going towards things like victim benefits, social services support, and legal advocacy, is still unavailable and maybe even diminished because more resources are going toward a dominant criminal enforcement approach.”
Kim stated what usually performs out in observe is that survivors are “rounded up” in the identical operations as these buying sex, and both become criminalized themselves or enmeshed in investigations as witnesses, which frequently re-traumatizes and re-exploits them.
One manner to enhance the legislation may very well be to add a provision within the invoice or extra legislation that guarantees blanket immunity for the suppliers of the sex companies from any sort of arrest or authorized cost and doesn’t compel different participation until they themselves need to, she stated, including that anti-trafficking efforts can solely work if victims really feel secure round legislation enforcement.
The oldest career on the planet continues to be round as a result of there’s a demand for it. Whether or not rising penalties will have an effect on the demand is questionable. Sex trafficking is a billion-dollar enterprise. It is being aided by our open southern border. Prostitution isn’t a victimless crime, definitely not for the ladies and youngsters being exploited.