State agency working on sex trafficking bill

? The Kansas Department of Children and Families is working with law enforcement officials on legislation that would increase penalties for those who engage in sex trafficking of children, while also providing help for the victims, an agency official said Wednesday.

The department is working with Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office, law enforcement agencies and judges, Anna Pilato, DCF’s deputy secretary for strategic development, faith-based and community initiatives, told Wichita child-service providers.

The legislation will treat children in the sex trade as victims rather than criminals, she said. The DCF’s role would be to help those children get the help they need to re-enter society.

A bill to address sex-trafficking of minors passed unanimously in the Senate during the last legislative session but stalled in the House of Representatives, The Wichita Eagle reported.

National researchers estimate that about 200,000 girls and boys nationwide are involved in sex trafficking or at risk, said Lucy Bloom, a special assistant with DCF, which is working to determine the scope of the problem in Kansas.

Diana Schunn, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County, said a big part of solving the problem will be persuading people that youth prostitutes “are as important as any other child abuse we work with.” And she said it’s possibly more important to deal with the adults who drive the sex trade.

It’s a lucrative business for the procurers because a pimp “can sell a girl over and over again in one evening,” she said, and many people are willing to pay a lot of money to have sex with children.

“If demand wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be seeing these victims,” she said.

In another meeting Wednesday, DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told Wichita, Sedgwick County and law-enforcement officials that her department also is drafting proposed legislation that would require notification to the department when a parent who is behind on child support payments receives financial benefits from an insurance company or the workers’ compensation system.

Gilmore said if the department knew of the payments, it could issue liens to ensure that child-support payments are made.