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SB 95: Johns Opposes Bigger Penalties for Johns; Human Trafficking Legislation Dies

Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead)
How can johns know if a hooker is willing? Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead) makes unfortunate remarks on SB 95.

The Legislature killed a piece of human trafficking legislation yesterday. Senate Bill 95 sought to make buying sex prosecutable under human trafficking statutes. That would raise the penalty for johns rise from Class 1 misdemeanor to a Class 4 or Class 3 felony.

As reported on SDPB, District 30 Rep. Tim Johns (I am trying to keep a straight face, but some days the blog writes itself) opposed this legislation, saying that it didn’t seem right to bump the penalty for johns from one year in prison to twenty-five when they might have no idea that the prostitutes they solicit are human slaves rather than willing prostitutes.

Um… haven’t we already decided that prostitution is wrong, regardless of how many parties are willing participants? Are we really going to throttle back our efforts against human trafficking by giving men who buy sex a break because they didn’t ask whether their purchase was made possible by slave traders?

Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) argued for SB 95, saying that stiffer penalties will help cut human trafficking off on the demand side

The Legislature, remarkably, preferred Rep. Johns’s logic to Hickey’s. But the proper response to men who buy sex is not to give them a lower penalty for creating the demand for an illegal activity. The proper response is to say, “Don’t buy sex.”


  1. Nick Nemec 2015-03-13 09:23

    One thing to keep in mind with enhanced penalties is the cost to imprison people for however long we are calling for. Prison isn’t cheap, there may be other ways to produce the results to society these types of bills are attempting.

    Unlike many legislators, Rep. Hickey seems like an innovative thinker, I hope he doesn’t drop this issue but comes back with another solution. It’s an issue worth addressing.

    And now some political operative is bookmarking this comment to use against me in some future political run as evidence I support prostitution.

  2. Craig 2015-03-13 09:28

    I suppose this is made more difficult by the fact there are areas of our world – including areas within our nation – where it is perfectly legal to purchase sex. This is much like the debate of legalized marijuana where at some point we look at why we are locking up so many people for so long over something which is looked at as a moral crime and which shouldn’t be illegal if consenting adults make the decision to engage in it.

    Nobody likes human trafficking, and we should be doing everything in our power to eliminate it from our planet. Those who traffic young women (girls) and those who partake in their services should be prosecuted and the sentences should be more harsh than they are today… but Rep. Johns does have a point. There are many adult females who choose the lifestyle of being an escort. They have no “pimp” they have nobody pushing them into the business or controlling them… they just like being their own boss and making their own decisions. Who are we to judge them for making decisions about their own bodies? We believe they should be able to choose whether to have an abortion, but on the other hand we want to restrict who they have sex with and for what reason?

    Now should a man who engages that type of willing prostitute be locked up for 25 years alongside a man who paid for sex from a 11 year old girl? Some may say yes, but I struggle with that.

    One day perhaps we will stop trying to create laws which make it illegal to sell something yet perfectly fine to give it away. If two consenting adults engage in sex it is fine, but if one pays the other for that act then suddenly it is a felony? [Unless of course they have permission to film it and both parties are being paid… then it is legal again!]

    It seems about time we decriminalize prostitution and enact laws to protect those involved. The world’s oldest profession isn’t about to disappear just because we enact stiffer sentences (pardon the pun), so it is time we did what we can to enact responsible regulations arround the practice and transition it into something which may continue to be frowned up, but that will greatly reduce the amount of young girls and women being pressured or forced into the business.

  3. Les 2015-03-13 10:48

    Get an interview with Johns, Cory. I just watched a gal with three class six and two class five felonies get five years suspended and 90 in Jail.

    We complain about full prisons in SD but some where there has to be other more effective methods of correction.

    And no I’m not a bit lenient on trafficking. It is with the worst of crimes.

  4. Veritas 2015-03-13 10:51

    Craig, what you, and many fail to realize, is that SDCL 22-23-9 still exists. Hiring for sexual activity–Misdemeanor. Any person who hires or attempts to hire another person for a fee to engage in sexual activity is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

    If someone buys a prostitute that is a willing provider, its not a felony, its a misdemeanor. What the law wanted to do was make sure that if a victim of human trafficking was purchased for sex, then the person who bought them would be facing a felony.

    The argument by those who want to protect the purchase of human trafficking victims, like those one can hear by listening to the testimony, is that what about the poor guy who buys a prostitute and only finds out later that she was trafficked? Its my opinion that you take the victim as you find them. You wouldn’t have purchased a sex trafficking victim if you weren’t purchasing sex. If you don’t want to get stuck with a felony for providing the demand for sex slaves, how about you don’t purchase sex at all, which is a crime. It is important to note that those who spoke out against the bill criminal defense attorneys, and they are looking out for criminal defendants.

  5. bearcreekbat 2015-03-13 11:27

    Craig’s arguments seem logical and very hard to dispute. Cory says we have decided prostitution is wrong, but logic suggests we need to examine that premise. Why is prostitution considered wrong or a crime if it involves consensual conduct between adults?

  6. mike from iowa 2015-03-13 11:29

    Change the name John to Lobbyist and prostitute to legislator and any money for favors will be legal. Problemo solved.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-03-13 11:35

    mfi: boom!

  8. Les 2015-03-13 12:27

    This bill leaves out the trafficking of children on up though adults who are used as slaves to the variety, housekeeping to commercial meat processing. Slavery is bad and if there ever was a need for capital punishment or daily caning, that would be it.

  9. Dana P 2015-03-13 12:51

    When I heard the blurb on the radio this morning, I couldn’t believe my ears. I had to let it rattle around in my head a bit. These legislators, who always throw around their Christian credentials for their reasoning on legislation, actually “arguing” that “golly gee, some poor fella who happens to innocently buy sex, how in the heck is that poor fella gonna know if that prostitute is a sex slave? It wouldn’t be his fault, gosh darnit, and he shouldn’t be punished for this.”

    Again, it throws out there for all to see, the way these legislators feel about women and how they really don’t “get” the big picture. How they hold women at a very different level. Yes, the sex slave trade is horrendous and is notches above “normal” (I use that term lightly) prostitution. Consenting adults? Yeah, I guess, in some ways. But, South Dakota, more than likely, doesn’t employ the $1,000+/hour prostitutes that are found in the big cities for the rich and famous. It’s ugly, no matter how you slice it. And the women come out on the wrong end of these deals, no question.

    But for our legislators to argue and actually throw some “support” behind johns that innocently stumble upon a trafficked woman?? These Christian legislators? Seriously?

    hmmm….I just hope there aren’t some of these arguments for the same reason that the legislators argue for an increased speed limit and didn’t like texting while driving bills. (Pieere to home/home to Pierre) If you get my drift!!

  10. Porter Lansing 2015-03-13 17:44

    An end to Tim Johns unfamiliarity by grace of the “Veil of Ignorance”. Expecting an Extremist Republican to have empathy or the ability to stand in another’s shoes is simply courting disappointment. For you, Representative …..

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-13 22:22

    Craig said, “There are many adult females who choose the lifestyle of being an escort.”

    Generally women make that “choice” based on economic necessity. If women really had equal rights, equal pay, proper pregnancy and maternity support, leave for child and parent care, equal representation in government, etc., the number of women “choosing” prostitution would drop like a rock.

  12. leslie 2015-03-13 22:37

    lack of perspective of womens’ adult (18?) consensual role is disturbing, somewhat like misuderstood white privilege

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-13 23:19

    Yup Leslie, that’s a fact.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-14 21:01

    Nick, interesting you mention the cost of prison. SB 95 includes the mandatory “Prison/Jail Cost Estimate Statement,” brought to you by criminal justice reform 2013. It says SB 95 wouldn’t have increased costs, because apparently, we haven’t made much use of our human trafficking statutes:

    This Act describes a crime that if prosecuted could result in a prison or jail sentence. However, since 2011 there have been no convictions for any human trafficking offenses. Therefore, the impact on prison or jail populations is estimated to be low.

    Did that fiscal statement miss the point? Wouldn’t SB 95 have generated new arrests and convictions? Or is South Dakota not pursuing human trafficking as avidly as the hype would make us think?

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