The state House of Representatives is considering a bill revising laws regarding sex trafficking and prostitution in the state.
Representative Sarah Laszloffy (R-Laurel) says her bill (HB478) adds a prohibition of sexual servitude of a child into law. It also increases the age of what’s considered a child prostitute from 12 years old or younger up to under 18.
“What we’re finding in other states is that prostitution is illegal just like it is in Montana but when a girl is picked up, she’s charged with prostitution and oftentimes the pimp is out the next day on bail,” she said, “And we’re trying to turn that around so these girls are treated as victims and the pimp is criminalized.”
Laszloffy says sex trafficking and prostitution is increasing in the state due to the increased activity in the Bakken oil field.
The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee 15 to 5. The 5 no votes included both Republicans and Democrats. Representative Jerry O’Neil (R-Columbia Falls) expressed his concerns on the House floor. O’Neil says the bill is a good idea but he can’t support it as written. The bill says someone can be convicted of sexual servitude of a child whether or not the child prostitute’s client was aware of the child’s age. O’Neil believes that is unconstitutional
“The defense has the right to tell the jury the girl showed him an ID that said she was 22 years old if that’s what he wants to tell them, if that happened,” O’Neil said.
The bill passed a preliminary vote in the House 68 to 32. After passing unanimously through the House Appropriations Committee today, it heads back to the House floor for a final vote. If passed, it would then move to the Senate.