COLUMBUS — A bill increasing penalties across the board for the “johns” who solicit sex from minors is headed for a full Senate vote as early as today.
But state law, under the bill, would continue to differentiate penalties based on the age of the minor being solicited.
Under House Bill 130, the penalty still would be less severe and the burden of proof greater when the minor solicited is 16 or 17 years old, despite an effort by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), to have such cases treated the same as cases with younger victims.
Ms. Fedor, however, supports the version headed to the floor.
“We have moved the ball forward in so many different ways for victims’ services,” she said. “You don’t have to prove fraud [for younger victims]. That’s a huge element.”
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send the bill to the Senate floor. The measure passed the House unanimously nearly a year ago,
After prior legislation primarily targeted tougher penalties for traffickers and destigmatized the minors they sold into the sex trade, the so-called End Demand Act targets the “johns” fueling the market.
For cases involving solicitation of someone age 15 and younger, the offender would face a third-degree felony, carrying up to five years in prison.
In cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds, the charge would be a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to one year in prison.
Prosecutors would not have to prove that the customer knew the minor’s age for the younger age group or those who are developmentally disabled, but would have to prove either coercion, force, or threat on the part of the trafficker for the older age group.
It’s currently a third-degree misdemeanor to solicit a minor for sex with a penalty of up to 60 days in jail.
“If you’re purchasing sex from a child, that should be a felony,” said Elizabeth Renade Janis, Gov. John Kasich’s anti-human-trafficking coordinator. “This does that for all kids, but it is tiered according to our age of consent.”
Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), a committee member, said the bill headed for the Senate floor stands on “better constitutional footing” than the House version and “better balances the rights of the victim as well as the rights of the accused.”
John Murphy, spokesman for the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said prosecutors can work with the amended bill.
“We support the proposal where we don’t have to show force, fear, or coercion in order to successfully prosecute a case involving a very young victim,” he said.
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