Missouri’s laws surrounding the trafficking of minors might be changing after a bill received initial approval by legislators Tuesday.
House members debated a bill proposed by Rep. Jeff Coleman, R-Grain Valley, that would modify the offense of “enticing a child.”
The current statute defines a victim as a child less than 15 years old, but this legislation would increase that age to less than 17.
Currently, penalty distinctions for patronizing prostitution are under the age of 14 and older than 14. This bill would increase the age to 15, and make the under the age of 15 distinction a Class B felony rather than a Class D felony.
According to World Population Review, Missouri ranks 5th in human trafficking with 4.3 cases per 100,000 people.
Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-St. Louis, questioned why 17-year-olds are not included in this legislation. According to Coleman, they cannot be included because of Missouri’s current age of consent.
Under current Missouri law, the age of consent is 17 years old.
“It seems we could make an exception for the purposes of being sex trafficked,” said Phifer. “A child is a child.”
Coleman agreed that the law should include 17-year-olds and said it is something the legislature should consider changing in the future.
Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, said there is a difference between consent and consenting to commercial sex.
Unsicker said that any minor who engages in commercial sex is identified as a trafficking victim, referencing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
“For commercial purposes, a minor cannot consent to sex. A minor cannot say, ‘Yes, I’ll have sex with you if you pay me’,” said Unsicker.
The bill needs one more vote from the House before it officially moves to the Senate.
This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online.
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