If signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the legislation would establish a clear definition of commercial sex trafficking and make it a Class 5 felony. Sex trafficking of minors – youths under 18 – would be a Class 3 felony. And in cases involving minors, prosecutors would not have to show that the trafficker used force, fraud or coercion.
The House and Senate unanimously approved two identical bills on the subject – SB 1188 and HB 1964 – in the final days of the legislative session, which ended Friday.
“I am very pleased that my General Assembly colleagues passed this critical public safety legislation,” said Obenshain, who sponsored SB 1188. The bill incorporates aspects of SB 710, filed by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Obenshain singled out Republican Dels. Tim Hugo of Fairfax, Rob Bell of Albemarle and Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah for their work on the House companion bill.
“It’s easy to think of sex trafficking as something that happens elsewhere, something that’s someone else’s responsibility – but it’s our responsibility to enhance our efforts to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.”
Obenshain said sex trafficking is the second fastest growing crime in the country. It is not just confined to remote corners of the globe but also occurring in urban, suburban and rural parts of Virginia, he said.
“Children are being recruited into prostitution by gangs and traffickers in schools, neighborhoods, malls and online. The fact that the average age at which a child enters into prostitution is 13 should serve as a wake-up call,” Obenshain added.
“Sex trafficking is a global calamity, but here in Virginia, we need to do everything within our power to end this terror and offer victims a chance at a new and better life.”