One more vote in the state Senate this week will advance a bill that significantly raises the fines on those who solicit a prostitute or offer to sell their sexual services in South Carolina.
Senators unanimously approved S. 168 last week as the latest way to crack down on human trafficking in South Carolina. The measure moves to the state House with another vote.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said “pimps” and “johns” should no longer be able to settle their crimes with a simple $200 fine, especially when their actions involve victims who were coerced into prostitution.
“You can’t just pay a fine and walk away,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “This makes it more of a stigma for those people, where you actually have to go sit in a court and your family and friends know that you’ve gotten caught up in prostitution or sex trafficking.”
If the bill passes, the maximum fine for soliciting a prostitute or operating a brothel would increase from $200 to $1,000 on the first offense, from $1,000 to $3,000 on the second offense and $3,000 to $5,000 on the third offense. It also creates more specific language about individuals who are arrested for entering or living in a known brothel.
The bill does not touch penalties for individuals who prostitute themselves, who Shealy said are often forced into the “world’s oldest profession.” Instead, she wants to target the demand, or customers for their services. “The people who are soliciting prostitutes, they don’t want their family or friends to find out,” she said. “They’re not wanting to go sit in a courtroom amongst their peers and admit the fact that they were soliciting prostitution.”
Shealy sponsored similar legislation last year which passed the Senate late in the session and ran out of time before it could be taken up in the House.