“Johns” in South Carolina soon could receive tougher sentences than the prostitutes they hire.
The S.C. Senate Thursday unanimously passed a proposal to raise maximum fines for soliciting a prostitute, running a brothel or inducing someone to become a prostitute.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said her proposal is meant to clamp down on human trafficking in the Palmetto State. “The only people it’s going after are the pimps and the johns.”
If the bill passes, the maximum fine for soliciting a prostitute or operating a brothel would increase to $1,000 from $200 on the first offense, to $3,000 from $1,000 on the second offense and to $5,000 from $3,000 on the third offense.
For the most part, the maximum prison sentences that violators could receive would not change from current law. However, anyone convicted of hiring a prostitute or inducing someone — found to be “severely or profoundly mentally disabled” — to become a prostitute could be fined $5,000 and sentenced to two years in prison.
“People that are seriously mentally disabled, they need to be protected probably more than anybody else,” Shealy said.
The proposal does not increase the penalties for prostitutes themselves. In fact, the bill opens the door for human trafficking victims who are charged with prostitution to receive milder punishment.
“When we’re talking about sex trafficking, we’re talking about people who are under the age of 16,” Shealy said. “Sometimes, you’re talking about children.”
The bill needs one more vote, largely ceremonial, next week before it heads to the S.C. House. A similar proposal from Shealy last year passed the Senate late in the session and died in the lower chamber.