A good step toward protecting children

Increasing exploitation penalties can help

By The Mercury

It’s hard to argue with the collaboration involving Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt in support of legislation to increase penalties for individuals involved in sexually exploiting children.

Their proposal would create a new crime relating to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It also would elevate the offense for people exploiting children in their late teens to a more serious felony on first conviction and to an upper level felony on subsequent convictions. Also, fines would increase for adults who pay for sex with persons under age 18.

But the legislation would do more than increase penalties. Importantly, it also would provide for funds to assist victims of human trafficking — the children. Among other things, it can help change the views of some Kansans toward young people who find themselves caught up in prostitution; they are indeed victims of commercial predators. The bill would accelerate the expungement of crimes for young people who are forced to participate in illegal sexual relations,

Its funding would come from doubling mandatory fines levied on individuals who pay for sex from $2,500 to $5,000.

Kansas already has Jessica’s Law, enacted in 2005. It requires a mandatory life sentence for the sexual exploitation of youth under age 14. That’s effective, but Mr. Schmidt was right in pointing out that the penalties for those who exploit children 14 to 17 are inadequate.

Though the governor might have exaggerated when he said, “With this important legislation, Kansas will take great strides forward in the fight against modern-day slavery,” there’s little doubt that it would constitute a step forward.

Mr. Schmidt, in announcing the proposal with the governor on Friday, said the proposal was drawn from the recommendations and observations from law enforcement officials, social service providers and others. Thus did Mr. Schmidt say, “We believe we have here a consensus product,” one that, he added, “will significantly strengthen our ability to protect Kansas children from sex traffickers.”

That’s certainly worth doing. Unfortunately, the two Kansas leaders acknowledged being unaware of how many Kansas children are involved in sex trafficking. The governor’s call for research into factors that foster the populations both of victims and perpetrators was welcome. So, of course, is anything Kansas communities can do to protect their children from sexual exploitation and sex traffickers.

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