Task force tackles sex trafficking in Arizona

Flanked by Cindy McCain and Gil Orrantia, who she chose to chair a panel to combat human sex trafficking, Gov. Jan Brewer called it an ``unthinkable, evil, sick practice.' But the governor later said her desire to help victims of this crime is totally unrelated to her decision to expand the list of who doesn't get driver's licenses to victims of domestic violence in this country illegally. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Flanked by Cindy McCain and Gil Orrantia, who she chose to chair a panel to combat human sex trafficking, Gov. Jan Brewer called it an ``unthinkable, evil, sick practice.' But the governor later said her desire to help victims of this crime is totally unrelated to her decision to expand the list of who doesn't get driver's licenses to victims of domestic violence in this country illegally. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX -- A special task force is recommending tougher penalties on "johns" who patronize underage prostitutes.

But several state lawmakers are not sure they can sell it to colleagues.

The panel, brought together by Gov. Jan Brewer, also wants to abolish the ability of customers to argue that they did not know the prostitute was a minor. Existing laws allow those who successfully make that claim can escape with as little as six months in jail.

Other proposals include:

• giving prosecutors more discretion to treat the teens as victims who need protection rather than criminals;

• mandate that anyone involved in sex trafficking be tested for sexually transmitted diseases;

• rolling out a public relations campaign ahead of big local sporting events like the Super Bowl, which tend to attract sex trafficking, to convince men that sex with minors is not acceptable.

And former state Attorney General Grant Woods, a member of the task force, got the panel to propose making it a crime for newspapers, magazines and even web sites to accept advertising for "adult' services without first getting government-issued identification from the buyer. There also would need to be ID, proof of being an adult and a consent form from anyone pictured in such an ad.

That information would be subject to subpoena by prosecutors.

Woods said he thinks such a law would withstand First Amendment challenges.

"It's a very minimal invasion into the privacy of the person placing the ad or the person accepting the ad,' he said. "You have a compelling governmental interest here in that we know that a good portion of the child trafficking that's going on in the United States is going on through these sort of advertisements.'

And Woods said even web sites that move offshore can be subject to Arizona laws, though subpoenaing the information becomes "more complicated.'

The move comes amid data that up to 300,000 underage girls are involved in child prostitution nationwide according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who is helping the Arizona task force, said the average age girls enter prostitution is 12 to 14. And he said this isn't a problem of foreigners, with 83 percent of minors who are sold for sex being U.S. citizens.

There is no comparable Arizona data.

Some proposals are administrative, like looking at the vulnerability of children in the welfare system to be lured into trafficking. But some, like increasing the penalties, would require legislative action. And based on prior history, the prospects for that may not be good.

Right now someone who is a pimp for an underage prostitute can be sentenced to up to 27 years if the girl is younger than 15. The maximum penalty is 21 years for an older minor.

Last session Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, tried to get colleagues to boost the penalties against those who were pimping out teens age 15, 16 and 17. But Allen could not even get a hearing on what he considered fairly noncontroversial legislation.

Allen said he saw that legislation as kind of a test of the willingness of the Legislature to crack down on child prostitution. He said the failure of this "lesser step' convinces him that a more far-reaching plan to boost penalties against johns would go nowhere.

That does not address a separate problem: The penalty for having sex with a prostitute age 15, 16 or 17 is as little as six months in jail if prosecutors cannot prove that the customer knew the girl was a minor.

Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, a task force member, said that makes no sense.

"I just don't understand why we have a law that seemingly protects the demand side, or the johns, in this instance,' he said. "That's really, in my opinion, what it's designed to do.'

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, also on the task force, said what the "john" knew should be no more relevant than whether someone accused of drunk driving knew the alcohol content of the drinks consumed.

But he said changing that would require legislative action. And Coleman said any measure dealing with enhanced penalties could be a non-starter in the Legislature.

"I know that there are some who are hesitant to change the laws that we have,' he said. Coleman said that is why a public relations campaign aimed at potential customers would be a better bet.

"Real men don't buy girls,' he said. "We need to work along those lines and just raise the awareness.'

Zoeller told task force members that's what his state did ahead of the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis, an event he said that seems to attract those who traffic in teens and some fans who are looking for such entertainment.

So Zoeller said the focus was placed on reducing demand. Some of that, he said, involved use of football players, taking advantage of their macho image to get out a message about what is not acceptable.

"We joke about it and don't see it as buying another human being,' Zoeller said. And he said the trade will continue until men are convinced otherwise.

Zoeller said his office also worked with hotels to discourage them from renting out their rooms to likely prostitution rings. And he said most were willing to cooperate, quietly, albeit some for business reasons.

"When there was resistance to helping, there may have been an arrest that was a little more visible,' he said.

But Zoeller cautioned there has to be a limit on any PR campaign when game day finally comes around.

"You've got to be respectful they're having a big show here,' he told task force members. Zoeller said that means no volunteers with signs telling men not to have sex with teens.

"You've got to let them have their party,' Zoeller said.

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday she sees no contradiction between her desire to help victims of sex trafficking and her decision to take away licenses from some domestic violence victims who are in the country illegally.

Brewer told members of a task force she created on trafficking that she wants solutions to cut down on women and girls being forced into prostitution.

"You know that generally they target women and children,' she told panel members. "I want you to know that I am committed, as I know you all are, to coming up with a solution.'

But the governor, speaking to reporters after her comments, sidestepped a question about why, despite her concern for these victims, her administration is no longer issue licenses to some domestic violence victims who have been granted deferred action status by the Department of Homeland Security.

That status allows them to not only remain in the country but also work here.

"I think that that is kind of a loaded question,' Brewer said of the comparison between domestic violence and sex trafficking victims. She said the issue being discussed by her task force " is horrendous and it's evil and it's sick.'

"And it has nothing to do with driver's licenses,' the governor said.

Brewer is in court defending her decision to refuse to license those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program announced last year by the Obama administration. So far about 15,000 Arizonans who were brought to this country as children have qualified and been granted work permits by the federal government.

But Brewer contends their presence is not "authorized' by federal law as required under a 1996 Arizona statute.

The dispute boiled over earlier this month as Brewer's attorneys are working to defend the state against charges it was guilty of unequal treatment. That came after challengers pointed out Arizona has issued licenses for years to those in other deferred action programs.

So the state's response was to announce it would stop issuing licenses to those in two other programs.

ADOT spokesman Timothy Tait said his agency has no way of knowing how many individuals are going to lose the licenses they have had until now. That includes those with what the federal government calls C-14 deferred action status, a category that has been used by domestic violence victims.

But Brewer denied Wednesday anyone is being hurt by the move.

"Everything I've read in the paper has been, in my mind, very misguided,' Brewer said, calling it "not well researched information provided to the public.' And she said violence victims have options other than the C-14 status that Arizona is now refusing to recognize.

But Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Immigration Law Center, said it is Brewer who is mistaken in believing that no one will be harmed.

He said the C-14 deferred action status has been specifically geared to the federal Violence Against Women Act, which permits domestic violence victims who are not here legally to remain and work while they are petitioning for permanent residency.

ADOT is taking the position that domestic violence victims, both men and women, could qualify for C-31 status. Arizona recognizes those with that particular designation as being "authorized,' meaning they are entitled to licenses.

Joaquin, however, said that's no help for Arizonans who have C-14 status and already are living and working in the state. And he said there are probably individuals who qualify for C-14 status who would not qualify for the state-recognized C-31 status.

A federal judge has questioned the state's policy of recognizing some deferred action categories and not others. But he refused to order Brewer to immediately start issuing licenses to the DACA recipients who get a C-33 designation.

The case goes to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December.

-- Howard Fischer

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