TOPEKA — People who pay for sex with children would face increased penalties and fines under a human trafficking bill Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt plan to introduce to the Kansas Legislature next week.
“We need more punishment that targets those who purchase the sex from children and more for the victims to help them, the victims of these heinous crimes,” Brownback said. “With this important legislation Kansas will take great strides forward in the fight against modern day slavery.”
Schmidt said Friday that existing human trafficking penalties created in 2005 for those who victimize 14 to 17 year olds are soft.
The new proposal, which is not yet available in detail, would create a new crime for commercial sexual exploitation of a child and elevate those exploiting children in their late teens to a mid-level felony on first offense and a top-level felony on any subsequent convictions.
The existing Jessica’s Law provides for a life sentence for those who exploit children under 14.
The plan also hikes fines for convicts that would be channeled to improved victim services for victims of sex and labor trafficking.
Schmidt said Kansas will emphasize that anyone under 18 being paid for sex is a victim, not a criminal. He said people “in some quarters” tend to think those victims have somehow allowed themselves to get involved in prostitution.
Schmidt applauded Wichita and Sedgwick County authorities for innovative work that has cracked down on sex trafficking and improved services to victims.
“They’ve been focused locally on this problem in a holistic manner for a number of years,” he said.
Lawmakers have debated tougher laws for human trafficking for years, including discussions last year that evolved into the proposal announced Friday.
Last year, then-Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Marc Bennett, who is now district attorney, told lawmakers that existing laws allow men who pay 16- and 17-year-old girls for sex to only face a Class C misdemeanor, which carries the same type of penalties as driving with a suspended license.
He called on lawmakers to help authorities further punish those who exploit the children.
Bennett said Friday he was happy to hear that the governor and attorney general were pursuing the issue.
“I’m certainly supportive of the idea of updating our laws with regard to prostitution and human trafficking,” he said.