CONCORD — The New Hampshire Legislature will consider legislation that would make offering to pay, agreeing to pay or paying either to engage in sexual relations or to watch a sexual performance involving a person under the age of 18 a felony carrying a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
State Rep. Brian Gallagher, a Republican from Sanbornton who introduced the House Bill 1628, said this week that his intent is to hold the "johns," those who solicit sex, more accountable for their actions.
"This bill is really enhancing the penalties," he said.
Gallagher told The Daily Sun he believes Motorcycle Week and events at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon have been known to foster the kind of behavior he seeks to punish with an enhanced penalty.
Under the current law (RSA 645:2), which applies to prostitution, it is a misdemeanor to either solicit or perform sexual acts, or cause another to do so, "in return for consideration," as well as to pay, offer to pay or agree to pay to engage in sexual relations. Likewise, actions to further prostitution, including transporting another into or within the state, living in whole or in part from the proceeds of prostitution and permitting a place to be used for prostitution, are also misdemeanors.
The actions taken in furtherance of prostitution, but not the solicitation or performance of sexual acts themselves, are Class B felonies if they involve a person under the age of 18 or are compelled by force or intimidation. A person younger than 18 years old who solicits or engages in sexual relations is not subject to either juvenile delinquency proceedings or criminal prosecution.
At the same time, the state law (RSA 639:3) that applies to endangering the welfare of a child, makes it a Class B felony to solicit sexual activity, either engaging in sexual relations or creating a visual representation, from a child under the age of 16.
Consequently, under current law, some "johns" are charged with prostitution, a misdemeanor, and others with endangering the welfare of a child, a class B felony.
Gallagher, who worked closely with the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, prepared his bill as an amendment to the statute prohibiting "trafficking in persons" (RSA 633:7). State Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) is among the co-sponsors of the bill.
Gallagher's bill would make it a Class B felony, if a "person pays, agrees to pay, or offers to pay to engage in sexual contact ... or sexual penetration ... with a person under the age of 18, or to observe a sexually explicit performance involving a person under the age of 18." The payment, agreement or offer made be made directly to the person younger than 18 or to a third party.
Gallagher said the bill aims to protect those, especially women, under 18, whom he described as "extremely vulnerable." He said his bill would punish conduct he considers "a form of human slavery."
"It is very troubling," Gallagher said. "Sometimes folks think this is far away, but "it's right here in front of us in New Hampshire and the Lakes Region and New Hampshire." He mentioned "a couple of major events" — Laconia Motorcycle Week and races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — as "occasions where this kind of behavior has occurred and does occur," adding that "the police chiefs recognize this as a concern."
Acknowledging that the Legislature has addressed the issue in the past , Gallagher said that stiffening the penalties "will put a stronger light on the problem."
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