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 Wednesday night, 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.”
Sex trafficking is when prostitution, pornography or sexual performance is induced by force or coercion, or when the person induced to perform the act is under 18 years old, Smith told the group of about 30 attendees gathered at Woodland Estates in Chehalis.
The term is synonymous with child sex slavery or sex slavery.
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.
After getting on the school bus, Lacy would head to the strip club, not her eighth-grade classroom.
Early on in her prostitution, her pimp filmed her being raped and said he would show it to her family and her church youth group if she tried to escape.
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. Traffickers are master manipulators and employ tactics to create a trauma bond between the victim and trafficker.
“The buyers of sex from juveniles can be anyone — professionals, students, tourists, military personnel, a family member,” Smith said on her site. “They can be Hall of Fame football stars like Lawrence Taylor, business leaders like Sunflower Markets CEO Michael Gilliland, or politicians like former New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer.”
According to Shared Hope, at least 100,000 American children are being exploited through pornography or prostitution every year.
The problem affects rural as well as urban areas.
According to Smith, one out of every four child sex workers in the Portland metro area comes from the rural communities south of Olympia.
For more information, visit www.sharedhope.org