Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Raising age of sexual consent
Proposed law would protect vulnerable youths

Changing law would hurt those in need of help

By Kelly Hill
Founder and executive director of Sisters Offering Support

Sisters Offering Support strongly supports Senate Bill 864, prohibiting the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.

Sisters Offering Support is a non-profit organization working to combat commercial sexual exploitation through peer-based prevention, education and public policy reform. We help women and children avoid recruitment into commercial sexual exploitation and escape its abuse.

This bill would protect young women and men under age 18 from use and attempted use in commercial sexual exploitation. It also would provide a legal definition of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Current state laws do not deter sex exploiters from recruiting girls aged 12-18 into providing sexual services through exotic dancing, massage parlors, escort agencies, prostitution or transporting between islands for these purposes. These types of activities are how sex exploiters initially recruit and exploit minors while avoiding the law. Huge profits are being made by using these children as consumer objects to buy and sell, which contributes to the violence against children.

The proposed bill would close the gaps in the law by making any use or attempted use of a person under age 18 for commercial sexual exploitation, a Class B felony. This will further deter sex exploiters and increase victims’ willingness to press charges, provide testimony and protect victims from perpetrators.

According to our Youth Prevention Program, one out of five youth surveyed reported that they felt someone has tried to recruit them into some form of commercial sexual exploitation.

These victims are vulnerable children who often are exploited by adults who put themselves in positions of trust and authority (a friend, lover, caregiver, boyfriend, agent, manager). The children are often emotionally needy, have low self-esteem and may be materially deprived. Adults in positions of trust and authority are able to manipulate them with promises, threats and bribes, often making these children feel complicit in their own exploitation and abuse.

Therefore we also recommend that consent be irrelevant and that the offense occurs with or without the consent of the victim.

Whether or not they consent, they are still vulnerable children being exploited. Any definition based on victim’s consent places burden of proof on the victim and offers a loophole for exploiters to use alleged consent in their own defense.

When young girls or boys are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, they are robbed of their childhood, innocence and basic human rights. This victimization is hazardous to their health, physical, mental, social, spiritual development and interferes with school.

Protecting just one girl or boy from this abuse and exploitation and providing early intervention which enables him or her to stay in school and discontinue criminal activities can save society approximately $2 million, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

If we can protect our youth from child sex exploiters and hold the sex exploiters responsible and accountable, we will save the lives and futures of many local boys and girls.

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