COLUMBUS — Ohio law should not have two tiers of victims for the same crime of soliciting a minor for sex, state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) told a Senate committee Tuesday.
“The penalty for buying a minor or child should be the same whether the child is 16 or 15, which is consistent with the national trend …,” she said. “There is not a lower penalty for a trafficker because the victim is 16 instead of 15. … Likewise, there shouldn’t be a lower penalty for a buyer who purchases a 16-year-old instead of a 15-year-old.”
Ms. Fedor urged the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to pass House Bill 130, which would increase penalties for those who purchase sex from a minor, regardless of whether the adult “john” knew the minor’s age.
Her bill passed the House unanimously last June. The measure is now before the Senate that two years ago removed a similar provision from another human trafficking bill and instead created a system in which cases involving solicitation of those age 15 and younger carry tougher penalties than those involving 16 and 17-year-olds.
Ms. Fedor agreed to the change at the time in order to get the rest of the victim-friendly Safe Harbor bill to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.
Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), a committee member, predicted that the latest bill will be rewritten to avoid a “draconian increase in penalties that are broadly applied that will result in a lot of fiscal impact to the state and frankly deprive defendants of, I think, some of their constitutional rights.”
He predicted the two-tier system will remain while still keeping some other provisions in the bill.
“There’s an awful lot of 16-year-olds that look like, pretend like, and hold themselves out to be 18 and 19-year-olds,” Mr. Seitz said. “We can talk about minors all we want, and that’s very important, but let’s not forget we routinely bind over minors for trial as adults as young as age 12. So we do need to be a little more balanced.”
In recent years, Mr. Seitz has successfully pursued legislation addressing Ohio’s sentencing laws, in part to reduce prison overpopulation.
House Bill 130 would elevate the crime of soliciting a minor for sex from a third-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, the difference between possibly 60 days in prison and five years. The felony would require registration as a sex offender.
“As Ohio law stands now, it is unlikely that buyers will be charged, unlikely they will be prosecuted, or unlikely they will be jailed,” Ms. Fedor told the committee. “Every day that goes by, I know there are great atrocities happening too close to home and too close to your home, and I know we are better than this.”
Ohio has emerged as a hub in trafficking for the sex trade. Toledo, in particular, ranks high statistically, in part because of a 2005 federal sting that broke up a trafficking ring in Harrisburg, Pa. That ring involved 177 females with 77 of them, including a 10-year-old girl, originating in the Toledo area.
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