It is now a felony to purchase sex from a minor in Oregon, and anti-trafficking advocates are celebrating what they say is a significant step toward diminishing the demand for child sex trafficking.
Senate Bill 673, signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber on Thursday, makes it a felony for first-time offenders who purchase sex from a minor in Oregon, said former Medford resident Liz Alston of Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization based in Washington state and dedicated to eradicating sex trafficking.
Oregon was one of only nine states where it is not a felony to purchase sex from a minor. An emergency clause in the bill ensures the penalties of purchasing sex from a minor goes into effect immediately, Alston said.
"As of now it is officially a felony to purchase sex from a minor," she said. "I am so thankful for each of the individuals, groups, activists and legislators that worked together to make Oregon safer for our children."
The enactment of the bill is "a tremendous step forward in the fight against child sex trafficking," said Joel Shapiro, a former prosecutor and lobbyist for the Kids Are Not For Sale in Oregon Coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations such as Shared Hope, police and prosecutors.
"This crime is a rapidly growing problem, which won't go away any time soon," said Shapiro. "But passing this law is a very significant step forward in protecting Oregon's vulnerable children, and giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to combat the demand from johns for sex with underage children that drives the crime of sex trafficking."
People can be charged with patronizing a trafficked child if they engage in — or offer or agree to engage in — a commercial sex act with a child younger than the age of 18 or a law enforcement officer who is posing as a minor.
The law will not require prosecutors to prove the defendant knew the child was younger than 18, and the defendant won't be able to claim ignorance regarding the child's age, said Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert.
The new law will make the trafficking charge a Class B felony. If convicted, a person faces 30 days in jail, a $10,000 fine and a requirement to attend sex offender treatment programs. The judge may also require that person to register as a sex offender, said Shapiro
A second conviction will bring mandatory sex offender registration, Shapiro said.
Rebecca Bender, 29, escaped the sex trafficking trade after being lured there as a teen by a man she believed loved her. Now an educator on the topic, the Grants Pass mother of three just weeks ago testified in Salem, along with Alston and Shapiro, in support of the bill.
"I'm thrilled that the Governor signed this bill in. It is great to know that Oregon now joins the rest of the country in protecting our children from being sold," she said.
Bender said the bill also requires annual training for law enforcement officials and first responders. Because of the dynamics of the sex-trafficking relationship between pimps and child victims, police often think they are responding to a domestic violence call, she said.