Washington state models sex-tour ban after isles’
OLYMPIA, Wash. » Travel agents would not be able to book or sell "sex tours" under a measure lawmakers are considering, following the lead of Hawaii, which signed a similar bill into law two years ago.
Arranging such tours would be a Class C felony, intended to crack down on sex tours to such places as Thailand. Violators would face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Sen. Karen Fraser, the main sponsor of the bill, said she wants to help reduce the demand for such trips. While she said she was not aware of any Washington state travel agents offering such tours, she said the state needs to take a pre-emptive stand.
"It is a global moral issue, and we should take every step we can to try and reduce sex slavery," she said.
Fraser, D-Olympia, said she got the idea for the bill after Hawaii adopted a similar measure in 2004.
Hawaii's law was prompted by a complaint to state officials by Equality Now, a New York-based women's rights organization that said a Honolulu travel agency had placed explicit advertisements on a Web site that offered the "Ultimate Asian Sex Tour" to Thailand twice a year.
Kenneth Franzblau, the trafficking campaign director for Equality Now, said a similar measure is pending in New York. New Jersey also is considering a bill banning sex tours, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Franzblau said the last time a Washington company offered up such services was a travel agency with a post office box in Spokane in 2002 that has since shut down.
"The thing about these companies is they come into business and go out of business quickly," he said. "The fact that you don't have one today doesn't mean you won't have one tomorrow or three next week. They're all over the place."
Steve Danishek, a travel industry analyst based in Seattle, said that while the goal of the bill was admirable, he wanted to hear more about its technical aspects.
"If I sell a ticket to Bangkok and the guy solicits kids into his condo, am I liable?" he asked.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a co-sponsor of the bill said it would have a public hearing today in the Senate Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee, which she chairs.
"I think most people would have a hard time believing this happens," said Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, "but it does."
On Wednesday a federal appeals court ruled that Americans caught paying children for sex in foreign countries can be prosecuted in the United States.
Ruling in a Seattle case, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Congress's constitutional authority to regulate commerce with foreign countries allows for the prosecution of Americans on underage sex tours abroad because they pay for sex. The ruling upholds a 2-year-old law criminalizing such behavior.