State senator seeks mandatory jail time for soliciting prostitution

Reporter: Anika Henanger
A business suspected of human trafficking. (WINK News photo)
A business suspected of human trafficking. (WINK News photo)

High profile arrests in South Florida have increased attention to human trafficking. New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft is one of the hundreds of men charged in a prostitution sting on our east coast.

Being caught does not mean the person will spend time in prison. Gayle Harrell, a state senator, wants to change that.

Despite his efforts to increase attention on the issue, experts said the reality is we do not recognize human trafficking in our backyards. But they said just as often, neither do the people paying for prostitution: “Johns.”

“A lot of the Johns that are taking advantage of these women may not realize that they are being trafficked,” said Rich Kolko, WINK News safety and security specialist. “It’s going to be difficult to prosecute them.”

Nola Theiss, who directs the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships in Lee County, said she supports any way lawmakers can curb the demand for prostitution.

“We still talk about awareness,” Theiss said. “But we really need to be talking about prevention.”

A lawmaker from Stuart is proposing a bill to make anyone convicted of soliciting prostitution from a human trafficking victim serve a mandatory 30 days in jail in addition to any other penalties.

Currently, there is no guarantee a John will sit in jail at all for the crime.

“It’s absolutely minimal,” said Theiss about the punishments a John will face. “It’s not a deterrent.”

But to deter, a court has to convict, which is tough to do for several reasons. Among them is the traumatizing experiences the victims live with.

“We had one victim,” Theiss said. “The attorney took her to the courtroom and said this is where the witnesses sit, where the judge sits. She said, ‘I can’t do it.'”

If approved, the bill would take effect in October and would not impact those already convicted.


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