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Council subcommittee advances change aimed at curbing human trafficking

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A City Council subcommittee endorsed a proposal Wednesday to increase penalties for soliciting prostitution and require all offenders to be booked and to pay for education aimed at preventing a repeat offense.

Vice Mayor Jim Waring, co-chairman of the Phoenix Human Trafficking Task Force, which recommended the changes, said the goal is deterring potential pimps and johns.

“We’re trying to make it so it’s more than just an inconvenience, it’s something that you’re talking about to other people who might be engaged in this as, ‘Hey, we don’t want that,’” Waring said.

The Public Safety and Veterans Subcommittee endorsed the proposal after discussing it with leaders of the task force and hearing testimonials from the public.

The current code only requires those who take the plea agreement to go through an educational program, often referred to as “John school.”

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, a task force member and director of Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, helped evaluate the John school and its impact.

“I would just like to recommend, based on the research, that having an education component is more likely to change their behavior than if they just do their jail time,” she told the subcommittee.

The second change would require booking for all who are arrested for soliciting prostitution. At the moment, booking is at the discretion of the Phoenix Police Department and officers dealing with the case.

Deputy City Manager Deanna Jonovich told the subcommittee that with mandatory booking defendants would have to appear in court prior to being released.

Jonovich said the additional cost to book all individuals arrested for prostitution would be around $36,000 annually.

Brian Steele, executive director of the Phoenix Dream Center, said that cost is minimal compared to the $61,000 his agency spent on resources and services for a 14-year old sex trafficking victim over the course of nine months.

Waring said some people will continue to solicit prostitution regardless of whether the full City Council approves the changes.

“And we’re going to have to keep arresting them,” Waring said. “But if you can prevent people from even actually engaging in this kind of activity, you don’t have to arrest them, you don’t have to spend the money to book them, then there’s no incentive for someone to kidnap a girl. It just has this ripple effect.”