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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Protect children, not predators”

    Kara Karlsoncolumnist
    Kara Karlson
    columnist

    In an attempt to tackle the problem of child prostitution, members of the Arizona state Legislature are now in a position where some mistakenly believe they are forced to choose between protecting the innocence of children and the rights of the wrongfully accused.

    There are currently two versions, three adopted amendments and two proposed amendments to what should be a simple piece of legislation aimed at punishing those who exploit the state’s most vulnerable.

    A combination of these bills and amendments would create truly formidable legislation that prosecutors could use to incarcerate not only the adults who procure children to force into prostitution, but also the adults who are using the child’s exploitation to fulfill their own perverted sexual desires.

    Senate Bill 1268, introduced by state Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, could be enacted as soon as it receives the governor’s signature. In fact, it was such a commonsense piece of legislation that it passed the Senate unanimously.

    However, now its passage is being held up by the House Judiciary Committee because it does not contain the flaw in the current law that allows a defendant to claim he or she did not know that the person was a minor.

    One of the amendments to SB 1268 states, “”It is not a defense to a prosecution pursuant to this section if the defendant … did not know and could not reasonably have known the age of the minor.””

    The legislation that should be adopted should include engaging in a sex act with a child prostitute in the list of offenses punishable as a Class 2 felony. However, in order for it to have real teeth, the new bill must keep the clause that not knowing the age of the child is not a factor the defense can use to help to exonerate its client.

    Engaging in an act of prostitution in Arizona is illegal to begin with. The fact that someone doesn’t ask the age of the person he or she pimps out or has sex with shouldn’t mean the perpetrator receives a slap on the wrist.

    The fact that someone doesn’t ask the age of the person he or she pimps out or has sex with shouldn’t mean that perpetrator receives a slap on the wrist.

    As a compromise, state Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, added it is a defense that the offender did not know the age if the child was 15, 16 or 17. However, if the defendant knew the prostitute was a minor, he or she could still be convicted of a Class 2 felony.

    Although this amendment is preferable to a version that only makes it a Class 4 felony to engage in an act of prostitution with a minor over the age of 14, it still places a nearly insurmountable burden on the prosecution and an easy escape for would-be purveyors of children.

    Weiers’ amendment would allow the pimp who kept a 15-year-old girl locked in a dog crate when she wasn’t walking the Phoenix streets to receive half the jail time if he could provide reasonable evidence that he didn’t know she was that young.

    State Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, who is refusing to hear the bill in his committee, argues that not including the “”but I didn’t know”” defense clause could cause otherwise quasi-innocent people to be convicted under the harsher penalties.

    But since when has ignorance – especially willful ignorance – ever been a defense?

    Providing evidence that the defendant did not know the prostitute’s age is much easier than proving with “”clear and convincing”” evidence that he or she in fact did. A videotape of the pimp looking at the minor’s birth certificate comes to mind, but I doubt any such clear evidence would be forthcoming.

    If someone’s speedometer reads 10 mph less than that person’s actual speed, and that person is pulled over for speeding, he or she can still be ticketed. All the “”but I didn’t knows”” in the world will not prevent that person from facing the penalties.

    While receiving a speeding ticket is not the same as being sentenced for a Class 2 felony, the differences in penalties fit the differences in the crime.

    The new legislation, without the “”I didn’t know”” defense, must be passed, because currently, ignorance is bliss.

    Kara Karlson is a journalism senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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