OLYMPIA – A bipartisan group of legislators is pushing a dozen bills to combat human trafficking, particularly among teenage runaways they say are lured into prostitution.
Among the targets of the legislation are ads for “escort services” that appear in the back of some newspapers and on the Internet, and foot massagers.
One of the bills proposed Monday contends that minors are being offered as prostitutes in ads that describe them as escorts. Such ads would be evidence of commercial sexual abuse of a minor, a felony, and a company placing the ad for escort services would be required to have proof such as a birth certificate or driver’s license that the person in the ad is an adult.
Under a separate bill, sexual abuse of a minor would come under the state’s criminal profiteering statutes, which would increase penalties and allow courts to assess civil damages, said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor.
Another bill would make it a felony for someone to promote sex with a minor by printing or posting on the Internet a sexually explicit photo or video of him or her. Others would allow the state to seize property from any company involved in the sexual abuse of minors, crack down on gang activity that involves prostitution of minors and increase penalties for using a mentally disabled person in prostitution.
“We want to put a stop to what’s happening all across the state,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. That involves closing loopholes in existing state laws that allow Washington to be one of the worst places for runaways and other minors to be recruited, groomed and sold into prostitution, she said.
One loophole the group wants to close is in state licensing of foot massage parlors, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said. The state currently requires licenses for massage therapists, but exempts reflexologists who do foot massages.
Without Department of Health licensing and oversight, “foot massage” parlors are springing up all over the state as “storefronts that are a gateway to human trafficking,” Keiser said.
Most of the bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Kline chairs. A pair of bills on foot massage parlors was sent to the Health and Long Term Care Committee, which Keiser chairs.