Long prison stays ahead for those who pay for sex with minorsSIOUX FALLS (AP) — A recent federal appeals court decision has cleared the way for prosecutors to seek lengthy prison terms for people who try to pay for sex with minors.
SIOUX FALLS (AP) — A recent federal appeals court decision has cleared the way for prosecutors to seek lengthy prison terms for people who try to pay for sex with minors.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision reinstates the commercial sex trafficking convictions of two men whose convictions were thrown out by trial judges in South Dakota. Those judges ruled that commercial sex trafficking laws are meant to punish the sellers of sex, not the buyers.
The 8th Circuit disagreed, saying that language in the federal statute dealing with people who are "obtaining" a person for a commercial sex act applies to those who buy sex, according to the media.
U.S. attorneys in Missouri and South Dakota have used the federal law to target buyers, but most have shied away from doing so, partly because of a lack of precedent.
"This is one of the most significant human trafficking cases we've seen in quite a while," said Brendan Johnson, the U.S. attorney for South Dakota. "We can now target the supply and the demand side of the sex trade. Prosecutors who do that will be able to turn to this decision from the 8th Circuit."
The cases in South Dakota involved men who answered online ads advertising sex with minors for money. The ads had been placed by police as a sting operation. Both men were indicted for commercial sex trafficking in 2011, with one facing a mandatory minimum of 15 years in federal prison and the other facing a mandatory 10-year sentence.
Sioux Falls attorney Mike Butler, who represented one of the men, successfully argued sex trafficking statutes were never meant to target buyers. But the 8th Circuit judges ruled that "It is far from absurd to conclude Congress intended (the law) to apply to purchasers that violate its provisions."
"Now, people who try to buy sex with minors need to realize that they can go to prison for a very long time," Johnson said.
Steven Wagner, president of the anti-trafficking organization Renewal Forum, said the decision will help in the fight against the juvenile sex trade, which he said ensnares hundreds of thousands of underage girls.
"Any scheme of trafficking, which in the U.S. mainly entails the commercial sexual exploitation of juveniles, is perpetrated by the supplier and the demander — the person willing to pay for a sex act performed by the victim," Wagner said. "The exploitation of a victim cannot proceed without both parties, and therefore both parties are culpable in the horror to which victims are subjected."