Prostitution measure clears hurdle in Senate panel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bill that tightens Idaho's laws in cases when a person is involved in prostitution with a minor cleared an initial hurdle in the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Wednesday.

The measure is designed to address some statutory gaps in Idaho's laws governing commercial sex. It adds some new consequences and penalties and brings the laws covering minors in line with those dealing with adults.

For example, the bill would make it a felony in all cases when minors under age 18 are used in the sex trade or trafficking. That change would tighten existing law, which makes it a misdemeanor in cases when the offender is less than three years older than the victim.

Sara Thomas, Idaho state appellate public defender and lead sponsor, said the bill stems from a need to include minors close to reaching adulthood.

"We determined there was human trafficking going on in Idaho," she said. "We had some gaps when it came to 16- and 17-year-olds."

The law also toughens the statute in other ways. For example, exchanging sex with minors for material goods like food and shelter would become a criminal offense.

"What we've tried to do is say it's not just for a (monetary) fee," Thomas said. "It's if you exchange anything of value, including membership in a gang, drugs, a place to stay ... that's a felony."

The law also seeks the forfeiture of profits when minors are used for commercial sex. And those convicted of using juveniles in the sex business would be required to register as sex offenders.

Thomas said collecting data on the number of Idaho youth used in the sex trade is difficult. Most cases involving teenage prostitution are classified as sex crimes, she said, but are not always tracked with the state's overall prostitution statistics.

She said the proposed law's language puts cases involving minors in line with the state's other prostitution statutes.