A new awareness campaign in Kansas is aimed at cutting the demand for prostitution as a way to fight human trafficking.
The campaign involves state agencies and local advocacy groups teaming up to push the Demand an End initiative. It involves education and announcements warning people that buyers of sex face charges.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that the campaign wants to create a culture where buying sex is not acceptable. He said it’s not a victimless crime.
“The money goes somewhere,” he said. “It fuels a marketplace.
“That in turn enables traffickers and exploiters to do to human beings things that are unlawful and wrong.”
Kristy Childs founded the group Veronica’s Voice, based in Kansas City, Kansas, which helps victims of human trafficking. Childs said people might not understand that buyers of sex encompass a wide variety of people, including people from higher-income communities.
“Every time I would go out and speak in a church, any kind of mixed crowd, I know I’m speaking to some buyers,” she said.
An example in the Kansas City area, she said, is that many buyers come from Johnson County, people she hopes the campaign can reach.
“The people that have the disposable income,” Childs said. “They have the choice in the matter.”
Karen Countryman-Roswurm, executive director of the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University, said educational campaigns like this are needed to help shift perceptions. She said it could start with simple changes in how people act.
“It takes men and women saying, ‘Hey, let’s not make a joke about that person and what they’re wearing,’ ” she said.
However, there needs to be more work done to make sure victims of human trafficking aren’t also charged with crimes. By a large margin, she said, people selling sex face more penalties than do buyers of sex.
“The reality is right now there are people losing their lives behind bars even though they were victimized by this crime,” Countryman-Roswurm said.
Kansas has made changes to state law in recent years to help victims of human trafficking fend off criminal charges. Schmidt said they could offer a defense that they aren’t criminally liable because they are victims of human trafficking.
He said more training for attorneys could help put the law to better use.
“I think there’s a great opportunity to make progress,” he said, “by ensuring the tools already available are well used.”
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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