Thursday, February 26, 2015

Human trafficking bill approved by House committee

FRANKFORT—A bill that would step up prosecution of those who pay for sex with Kentucky’s child human trafficking victims was approved today by the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 515 sponsor House Majority Caucus Chair Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said prosecution of those who pay for sex with child human trafficking victims is difficult because abusers often claim they thought the child was over age 18—an adult, under the law--to avoid prosecution under the state’s human trafficking laws.

HB 515 would change that, ensuring those who pay for sex with a child prostitute cannot claim ignorance of the child’s age as a defense from prosecution for human trafficking.

Ernie Lewis with the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers spoke against the bill in committee, saying it is too broad. “What HB 515 does is take away the defense so even through (an) 18-year-old boy believes a person is of age, he can’t defend himself with that…and he’s facing 10 to 20 years in prison,” which can’t be probated, said Lewis. “That’s the effect of this bill.”

Overly, who has successfully sponsored others human trafficking bills in recent sessions, said the bill addresses “egregious crimes against children.”

HB 515 supporter Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said what the bill does is put the onus on the person buying sex to make sure that a prostitute is, in fact, an adult. “Are you dealing with a child, or are you dealing with an adult?” is what Cohron said the bill attempts to ask.

Prostitution is illegal in Kentucky, but it is a misdemeanor whereas human trafficking-- which includes coerced or forced adult prostitution and the selling of children for sex or other purposes-- is a felony.

HB 515 now goes to the full House for consideration.