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House panel approves crackdown on human trafficking

7-3-farnsworth-q-aA bill that throws the book at pimps and men who pay minors for sex received unanimous approval today in the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing that touched a nerve with the fathers of daughters on the panel.

The bill, HB2454, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, also allows prostitutes who have been arrested to claim they were forced as victims into the illicit business. A last-minute amendment is aimed at escort services, requiring them to provide their license information in advertisements and keep proof of age on record for any escort whose services are advertised.

Grant Woods, who served on the Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force, said there is also going to be an amendment aimed at massage parlors.

The bill, which was the product of the governor’s task force, increases the prison term by 3½ years for pimps who force minors into prostitution. They are already looking at seven to 21 years in prison depending on the circumstances of the crime. The bill allows a customer to be prosecuted if he “should have known” the girl was a minor. And the bill adds sex trafficking and child prostitution to the definition of racketeering, which will allow the state to go after the proceeds of pimps.

And while lawmakers, prosecutors, former prosecutors and former task force chair Cindy McCain testified about the merits of the bill in committee, a human touch came from Carolyn Jones, a Phoenix woman who escaped the lifestyle of a teenaged prostitute.

Jones, an advocate for Streetlight USA, an organization that combats sex trafficking, said she began the lifestyle as a means of survival. It wore down her will to live and led her to a world of drug abuse.

“You end up watching your sisters die on the streets of Phoenix,” Jones said.

Lawmakers said they were touched by Jones’ courage and story and they couldn’t help but think of their daughters as she spoke.

“This is not just a bill, this is very personal for all of us who have daughters,” said Rep. Ethan Orr, a Tucson Republican.

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