CENTRALIA, Wash. – Penalties in the U.S. for years have been harsher on adults who molest children than on adults who pay to molest children, according to former congresswoman Linda Smith.
Without money, the crime is “child sexual abuse” – one that takes into account the victim’s age and that can be punishable by decades in prison, she said.
But with money it’s “solicitation,” an ageless – and for years faceless – crime that carries lighter sentences, often as low as parole or a few days in prison.
Former 3rd Congressional District Rep. Smith has helped change that.
Since leaving office, Smith has dedicated herself to fighting human trafficking.
Through her organization, Shared Hope International, she is helping to educate girls and young women, crack down on offenders and close policy loopholes.
Speaking to the Soroptomist, Altrusa and Zonta International clubs of Lewis County last week, Smith focused on the role women can play in the fight against trafficking.
“We tend to nurture,” she said. “We feel responsible for what’s happening around us – Shared Hope International came out of that.”
Following a brief introduction, Smith showed recorded accounts from two victims of sex trafficking: Brianna, an 18-year-old woman targeted at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress, and Lacy, a 13-year-old girl stalked in her small hometown.
Both victims described being approached by handsome young men and being showered with attention and gifts.
“He was like 24, he played football at a university. He had bought me some designer jeans and things,” Brianna said.
“He bought me some clothes and jewelry,” Lacy said. “I didn’t really have stuff like that.”
“And then he asks her for something,” Smith explained about the pattern.
Brianna was asked to dance in a strip club as a first step in being groomed for prostitution. Fortunately, her family intervened.
Lacy also was asked to dance. She then was forced into prostitution.
According to Shared Hope International, traffickers and pimps use physical, emotional and psychological abuse to coerce young women and girls into a life of sex trafficking.