News Prosecution Shift for Prostitution
posted by March 30 at 14:17 PMon
Posted by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee
For the last two weeks, I’ve been following the attempts of the King County prosecutor’s office to incarcerate a teenage girl for a year and examining the flawed financial system in place to support programs that helps get teens off the streets. Prosecutions of teenage prostitutes have been steadily increasing over the last three years, and funding for outreach programs has rapidly declined. This disparity has created a vicious cycle on Seattle’s streets: Teens are often picked up by police and cycled back onto the streets dozens of times before any real intervention occurs.
A passage in Senate Bill 5718, proposed by Seattle Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles(D-36) illustrates the problem:
On a recent ride-along targeting prostitution, four out of six prostitutes picked up were juveniles. These young women are arrested, driven to the station and are then back on the street.
Kohl-Welles’s bill has passed the senate and is in the final stages in the house before it goes to a vote. If approved, 5718 would reclassify transactions between johns and juveniles as “commercial sexual abuse of a minor,” and would force a shift in the prosecution’s pursuits. Minors would now be treated as sexual-assault victims and be referred to appropriate services, while johns would face increased sentencing. In addition:
A person who patronizes a juvenile prostitute may also be charged with the rape of a child or child molestation… If a person is guilty of rape of a child or child molestation… an additional one-year enhancement must be added to the standard sentence range for the crime.
Law enforcement is already at a disadvantage when attempting to catch johns. Seattle’s vice squad, which is solely responsible for handling street prostitution arrests, is ludicrously understaffed. While SB5718 will force police to reexamine their priorities and tactics, there is some doubt among law-enforcement officers about whether an increase in penalties will deter already difficult-to-catch johns from patronizing teenage prostitutes.
An editorial in the Times by Kohl-Welles and City Council President Nick Licata notes that since 2002 in Washington State,
there have been 84 convictions of juveniles for prostitution—but only two for patronizing.
Arrested johns often face fines which are split between city vice operations and the Sex Industry Workers Fund, which was established in 2002, to funnel fine payments into new treatment programs. (Only Richard McIver voted against the ordinance, saying he opposed earmarking funds for specific programs.) Currently, the fund only provides money for additional case workers and support groups, rather than for housing or other vital services. However, Terri Kimball, the director of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention in the city’s human services department, says they “are developing a plan to do a thorough review” of the program.