- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - People who buy or sell sex in Nebraska would face much longer prison sentences under a bill the Legislature advanced Friday.

The measure would result in a minimum of 20 years and a maximum life sentence for anyone who forces children into prostitution or pays for sex with a child. Trafficking an adult would result in prison sentences between one and 50 years.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, said the measure shows Nebraska’s intent to eradicate human trafficking.

“I want to send out a loud and clear message to traffickers, to purchasers, to law enforcement, to judges,” Pansing Brooks said. “We’re drawing a line in the sand.”

About 900 people are sold for sex each month in Nebraska, according to a report from the Human Trafficking Initiative. Creighton University researchers who analyzed postings on a Craigslist-like website used to sell sex found advertisements for every community along Interstate 80 in the state.

About half of the ads were for black women, even though black people make up just 5 percent of Nebraska’s population. Researchers determined nearly three-quarters of the posts showed signs that the individuals sold were underage or were being controlled by a third party.

The bill will prohibit people arrested for soliciting sex from a minor will from using as a legal defense a belief that the minor was an adult or gave consent.

“If you’re going to buy sex, you better be dang sure that those people are not trafficked,” Pansing Brooks said. “You better be dang sure that it’s not a child because these penalties are increasing.”

The bill also would allow rape survivors to block their rapists from gaining custody or visitation rights to children conceived through sexual assault. It would provide protection orders for sexual assault survivors and let victims of domestic violence renew protection orders against their abusers.

It follows laws in recent years that allow victims to sue traffickers and provide legal immunity to adult trafficking victims caught working as prostitutes.

Follow Julia Shumway on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JMShumway

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