HARTFORD >> Jillian Gilchrest knows that ending sex trafficking in Connecticut will take aggressive action targeting the demand.
And now, state Rep. Liz Linehan has introduced a bill that seeks to make buying sex from a minor a Class C felony under state law.
“When men buy sex, they create demand which fuels sex trafficking in our state,” said Gilchrest, , chairwoman of the state’s Trafficking in Persons Council. “Representative Linehan, and the legislation she has introduced, recognizes the importance of targeting buyers in order to prevent the sex trafficking of our state’s women and children.”
Conviction on a charge that is a Class C felony can bring a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000, according to Connecticut law.
Further, while alleged buyers of sex face potential misdemeanor charges, and the new bill seeks to make legal punishments more severe, if it were adopted, an individual convicted of soliciting sex from a minor three times also would have to register as a sex offender, according to a release from Linehan’s office about the introduced bill.
“It’s time to change the belief that prostitution is a victimless crime; many sex workers are, in fact, victims themselves,” Linehan, D-Cheshire, said in the release. “That we continue to punish sex workers — many of whom have been coerced into this work or do it out of economic desperation — without looking at the other side of the equation just doesn’t make sense. We need to shift the focus to the consumers, and by increasing penalties for soliciting sex we can decrease the demand.”
The announcement about the bill comes days after the state Trafficking in Persons Council, directed by the state Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, announced its new “End Demand” campaign, focused on targeting those who solicit sex.
The TIP released a report last year that found that sex workers were seven times more likely to be convicted of a crime than those who were caught allegedly buying sex, or “johns.”
Some of the goals of the “End Demand” campaign include supporting new legislation that would make for harsher punishments for those who solicit sex.
The Connecticut state legislature passed three laws last year that target human trafficking. The first requires hotel and motel managers and staff to undergo training sessions to learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking. In addition, state lodgers must keep records of guests for a minimum of six months after a stay.
Second, the new laws make it so sex workers under 18 cannot be charged with prostitution crimes under state law and lastly, convicted buyers of sex now have a required mandatory fine of $2,000.
Under state law, a misdemeanor carries a maximum prison sentence of one year, where a Class C felony — which Linehan’s bill proposes — carries a minimum sentence of one year, according to Linehan’s release.
The state Department of Children and Families reported that there were just under 200 referrals of domestic minor sex trafficking on their care line in 2016. The DCF estimates that there were at least 2,000 buyers of sex last year, based on data presented in a training session for hotel and motel managers Thursday, which was presented as part of the new state law.