Under a proposed bill, minors in Arkansas who are victims of sex trafficking would no longer be charged with prostitution. The House Judiciary Committee passed the legislation on Tuesday.
Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, is the sponsor of the bill. She told the committee she did not know of any opposition to the legislation, and believes this bill is "a step forward with the juvenile diversion that we’re trying to say we’re champions for in the state."
Under the proposed bill, minors would not be charged with committing the offense of prostitution if the person who committed said acts was a victim of sex trafficking. The bill also places the burden of proving the minor was not a victim of human trafficking at the time of the act on the state, instead of on the defendant. If the state cannot prove the minor was not trafficked, the charge would be dismissed.
Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, asked for an estimate of how many minors were charged with prostitution in recent years. When no exact number was available, Fite questioned the need for the bill.
"I understand the intent of this bill. I just wonder if this legislation is necessary, if this is not something that’s already being done in our state," Fite said.
Scott responded that she thought the bill was worth it no matter how many or few people it helped.
"I think even if it impacts one child, we should be standing up for those individuals who are victims, but I do understand your concern. But I wouldn’t want there to be an incident and there’s not a law to address it," Scott said.
The committee passed the bill by a voice vote, with no audible dissent. It now heads to the House floor. The committee was initially prepared to hear HB1694, which seeks to repeal gun-free zones in the state. However, Rep. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia, the bills sponsor, requested to pull the bill onto the deferred list.