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Friday, March 30, 2007

Prosecution Shift for Prostitution

posted by on March 30 at 14:17 PM

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.

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not that i really want to support johns out there, but it seems kind of "unfair" to prosecute them extra for trying to buy a juvie girl. I'm guessing most girls don't advertise they are under 18, and when they get all tarted up, it is nearly impossible to tell. i guess johns should start carding before the deal gets underway...

Posted by ddv | March 30, 2007 2:36 PM

Actually, the bill stipulates that if a john asks the girl for ID or makes a "good faith effort" to determine she is of age then they could potentially avoid the harsher sentence.

Posted by Jonah S | March 30, 2007 3:03 PM

Right, blame the johns, they make much better scapegoats than teenage girls. This makes about as much sense as shutting down a night club because they let in an 20 year old girl who used her older sister's ID. Nick Licata is the worst kind of pandering politician.

If there's any crime in this scenario, it is already covered by existing statuatory rape laws. The fact that it involves prostitution should be irrelevant, and the act of buying/selling sexual favors should not by itself be a crime.

Posted by Sean | March 30, 2007 3:07 PM

Thank you Jonah for posting on of an hour ago the bill has taken another step towards passage.

ddv @1 why is it unfair? adults have a legal responsibility to make sure that they don't have sex with minors - regardless if there is an exchange of money or not.

adults are prosecuted for having consensual non-commercial sex with minors - even when they say they "didn't know" the sex partners were minors. the reason it is a crime is that there is tons of evidence about the harm done when young people have sexual relationships with adults.

Why should the severity of the crime of an adult having sex with a minor differ when there is an exchange of money? - especially when there is plenty of evidence of even greater physical and emotional harm to the adolescents who take money from grown men for sex?

See here from a recent PI article, The Youngest Profession, some shocking facts:

"A Justice Department Study placed Seattle among 12 hub cities in the US where traffickers recruit teens for sex work"

"Whatever the cause, Seattle has become a favorite spot for recruitment among would-be pimps."

"A study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2001 found that at least 250,000 children are victims of sexual exploitation in the United States."

"Researchers estimate that nationally, one out of every three kids on the streets will be solicited for sex."

"In Seattle it was enormous numbers of kids," said Richard Estes, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who conducted the research, the most far-reaching ever done on child prostitution and pornography."

"King County Juvenile Detention Center has twice as many girls in its cells for soliciting than it did five years ago, and national experts say Seattle has become a major hub on the child-trafficking circuit."

"the 15-bed Spruce Street center is the only place, other than a jail cell, where children trapped in prostitution can find respite, albeit brief. There is nothing in the city, nor even Washington state, dedicated to helping young people permanently free themselves from sex work."

Read the full article at:

Posted by LH | March 30, 2007 3:12 PM

No, it doesn't make sense to shut down a night club that let in a girl who used a fake ID, but it does make sense to shut it down if it's been letting in minors without even carding them. Any john that fucks an underage prostitute and doesn't make any attempt to check her age deserves to be locked up.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 30, 2007 3:14 PM

keshmeshi #5:

Let's say you are 25 years old, and you were about to engage in an illegal sex act with a stranger for which you could be incarcerated, and that stranger asked to see your id. Would you show it to them? Only if you were an idiot.

Now, if prostitution were not a crime, the idea of requiring id checks might not be so stupid.

Posted by Sean | March 30, 2007 3:29 PM

The solution isn't to bust johns or the underage prostitutes.

I used to volunteer at a youth center, and there was a high percentage of street youth that used it. What these kids need more than anything else is a fucking apartment and a job. But a lot of them have dropped out of school, and some of them are too young even to work at McDonnalds. And the child labor laws prevent older kids from working enough hours to support themselves, even if they can find a job. Our answer to street kids is to arrest them or send them back to their parents. For a lot of them, sending them back to their parents is flat out dangerous. I've heard a thousand stories, and believe me, most of them leave home for valid reasons. Lots of girls who were molested by daddy, step-daddy, uncles, etc. Not surprisingly, this leaves some of them confused about sexuality and sexual boundaries.

What these kids need is help, not jail. Is that so hard to grasp?

Posted by SDA in SEA | March 30, 2007 3:40 PM

One more thing (sorry, it's a topic I care about).

The real "victimizers" here are the laws that drive prostitution underground, outside the protection of law enforcement, thereby leaving prostitutes more vulnerable to pimps and violent predators. The best thing Nick could do for these kids is to decriminalize prostitution.

Posted by Sean | March 30, 2007 3:48 PM

No Sean, the best thing Nick could do for these kids is to get them some sort of housing, and find some way to enable them to find legit employment so they don't feel like they have to resort to prostitution in the first place.

Mind you, I agree that prostitution involving consenting adults should be decriminalized. But I don't think kids have any business getting involved in it, and I know that most of them wouldn't if they felt like they had other realistic options for getting by.

Posted by SDA in SEA | March 30, 2007 4:47 PM

Sean @ 8 - this bill all but does decrim for minors...because they become victim in the eyes of the law. also, i'm glad you care about this issue. if you are advocating for decriminalization for consenting adults, i agree - as does Nick...but only when we are talking about 2 adults. there's NO support for doing so in WA State. he's asked for this bill that can have the impact of decrim for the minor as a larger strategy to help these girls and young women. it is completely separate from Nick's position of how this issue should be addressed with consenting adults. He is trying to address a specific problem as well as trying to stop young girls like the one Jonah wrote about having to go to jail because they have been sexually exploited for money by an adult who is breaking the law having sex with a minor.

and you again @ 3 - it technically is illegal w/o this law...the laws that define statutory rape don't create an exemption for sex with a minor when there is money involved. the problem is just what I'm reading in these posts from you guys - saying we shouldn't bust guys who are buying sex from children. law enforcement doesn't spend much time busting johns patronizing minors because somehow - just like most of you here - they just don't see it as wrong in the same way as any other instance - not involving money - of adults having sex with a 12, 14, 16 year old - merely because there is an exchange of money. this is reflected in a review of arrest stats in every city in the country. johns are hardly scapegoated.

this law is about changing definitions as a way to teach the public and law enforcement how harmful this life is for children so that the law enforcement resources are used to arrest the abusers. don't you guys realize that except for occasional stings - cops only bust the girls? when you are talking about children who are victims, why should our tax dollars be used to put the abused party in jail, just because they are easier to bust than the abuser? that's like jailing the DV victim and letting the abuser go...

i don't understand you guys here, this is not like adult is a dangerous and psychologically damaging way for children to live. i'm working with former prostitutes who are now working as outreach workers on this project. this is bad stuff and these guys - i don't care a bit about prostitution between consenting adults - need to be prosecuted.

and SDA at Sea @ 7 - this bill gets more $$ for service by stepping up the fining the Johns and Pimps that are selling and buying these children. the funds go into a Sex Industry Victims fund...Jonah wrote about this.

Posted by LH | March 30, 2007 4:49 PM

SDA in SEA @ 9 - that's exactly the plan - housing and an intensive service mix of mental health counseling, job training (when appropriate - again some of these girls are literally children who can't work jobs), drug and alcohol be financed in part with the fines from busting and prosecuting johns and pimps. These fines got to a Sex Industry Victims fund for services - but there's not a lot of money in the fund because there isn't a lot of busting johns and pimps. Yet there should be when the johns and pimps are buying and selling children. The housing options need to be in secure locations, just like DV shelters, these girls - even more than adult women - are at risk of physical harm when they leave the life. They are both more vulnerable than adult women who try and give it up while simultaneously by the merit of their youth MORE valuable to their pimp because men will pay more for sex with younger victims - which obviously can be a recipe for greater physical harm. A group of advocates, service providers, and former prostitutes are looking at a model like this one:

Posted by LH | March 30, 2007 5:07 PM

operative word here is GUYS griping, not women.

if you care so much, sean, trot right down to olympia and lobby yer lawmakers to decriminalize prostitution so these 13 year old hookers won't be breaking the law!

Posted by ginger | March 30, 2007 5:12 PM

I don't actually see much inherent contradiction between the positions staked out by LH, Sean or SDA.

Certainly the long-term solution to this is not just decriminalization of prositution, but legalization and regulation. But, that ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

As silly as the pattern of creating new laws everytime we identify a social ill is, in this case that may be the best we can come up with. Essentially decriminalize soliciting for the girls and provide them with an array of needed services. And then letting the johns know they're really gonna suffer if they patronize an underage prostitute.

Most relatively well informed johns know this and it is a fairly common topic of discussion at the local prostitution review boards. Often the tricks will identify underage girls and point them out as to be avoided to other johns. Unfortunately, as LH notes, there are some guys who specifically seek out the underaged (just as there are those who favor pregnant dates), and it's those guys who really ought to be the focus of enforecement

Posted by gnossos | March 30, 2007 6:04 PM

Jonah - one thing that's missing from all the Stranger's reporting on this issue: How is it even possible under existing law for a prosecutor to ask for a year (or, as Josh Feit wrote, 18 months) for juvenile prostitution? Isn't the ceiling 30 days for a misdemeanor?

Posted by JTR | March 31, 2007 7:41 AM

The girl is facing multiple counts of the same charge. If convicted on all counts the sentences would be consecutive.
I can't find my notes with the sentencing guidelines right now but I'll dig 'em up.

Posted by Jonah S | March 31, 2007 10:47 AM

Oh - I thought that sentences on multiple counts had to be concurrent, except under rare exceptions. Is KC claiming that this is one of those exceptions?

Posted by JTR | March 31, 2007 2:25 PM

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