A House committee has approved legislation designed to provide leniency to teenagers caught up in human trafficking.
If the bill becomes law, prosecutors could refer prostitutes under the age of 18 to state officials for intensive treatment rather than charge them with the crime of prostitution. The bill would also double the prison sentence for adults convicted of exploiting minors as prostitutes.
“This is an issue that I think that people kind of need to open their eyes,” says Representative Todd Pritchard, a Democrat from Charles City who was assigned to the subcommittee that worked on the legislation. “…This is a bigger problem than what you would think.”
Pritchard expects legislators to take other steps to address the explosion of human trafficking.
“I would like to see some legislation that deals with maybe expunging records for girls that have had maybe criminal convictions because they got caught up in this,” Pritchard says, “and if they can show they were a victim, maybe we can clear a criminal history.”
Experts estimate as many as 100,000 children are sold for sex every day in the U.S. Since 2003, the F-B-I and U.S. Justice Department have used stings to recover more than 2700 children who were enslaved in prostitution and most were between the ages of 12 and 14.
A 2013 sting in Hills, Iowa, led to arrests after authorities discovered a 15-year-old Wisconsin girl had been brought to Iowa as a child prostitute. In 2012, a 21-year-old Waterloo woman pled guilty to running an on-line prostitution service, offering clients her 16-year-old sister. Over a dozen men were also charged with using the service.
The bill to toughen penalties for pimps and provide some leniency to underage prostitutes cleared the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon and is now ready for debate in the full House.