On Sept. 1, Texas will become the first state in the country where paying for sex will be a felony offense. The new law, HB1540, was passed unanimously and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June.
Proponents say the law is designed to crack down on so-called "johns" who pay for sex. Additionally, they say it shifts punitive blame away from those engaged in prostitution, many of whom are often victims of trafficking.
Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who authored the bill, said, "We know the demand is the driving force behind human trafficking. If we can curb or stamp out the demand end of it, then we can save the lives of numerous persons."
The Houston Chronicle reported that the law increases the penalty on paying for prostitution, to a maximum of two years of jailtime for the first offense. The law also expands felony charges against traffickers who recruit minors at treatment facilities and youth centers.
Those involved in human trafficking support the new law. "Back in the days, basically you would get a fine," said Juan Cano, one of the chairs for the Rio Grande Valley Anti Human Trafficking Taskforce, told NBC News. "It gives law enforcement another way to charge those who are purchasing sex. What it does is basically enhances, and it goes to a state felony which is entitled to jail time."
Not everyone agrees. Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Marymount University Law School who focuses on human trafficking, points out, "Putting individual 'johns' in jail will do absolutely nothing for victims of trafficking. It harms them because evidence demonstrates that the more resources that go into law enforcement approach, the more that victims lose because resources that ought to be going towards things like victim benefits, social services support, and legal advocacy, is still unavailable."
Others say the law could serve as a model to other states considering similar legislation. "It's really unfair to someone who is a victim to prosecute them rather than try to help them escape their situation and get their lives back on track," said Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law School.
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