Utah lawmaker wants death penalty for child sex traffickers

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By Michael A. Kruse

A Clearfield Republican wants to give convicted child sex traffickers the ultimate punishment.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, is pushing to make child sex trafficking a capital offense. Ray accompanied the Salt Lake City vice squad on patrol a few years ago. During this patrol, he saw how big an issue child trafficking is in Utah. He said he’s been working on bills to target prostitution and trafficking for years.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield

“I got so fed up with what I’ve seen,” Ray said. “It’s time to take the ultimate jump and say if you traffic a kid for sex, we’re going to kill you.”

Marina Lowe, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said the group opposes capital punishment in all forms. Lowe cited some of the current botched lethal injections as ways that America is finding out that the death penalty is not effective.

“At the end of the day it’s our position that the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing its citizens,” Lowe said. She added that Ray’s proposal is unconstitutional.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled child rape is not punishable by death, striking down a Louisiana law as unconstitutional because the punishment was “cruel and unusual.”

Ray acknowledged that his proposed bill could be challenged in the court. He said he was willing to take a chance, despite the bill’s uncertain future. Ray said he would love to fight for this law at a federal level.

“I’m going to turn the tables on them and say, ‘Prove to me why you can execute for treason and I can’t execute for a crime that in my world is ten times worse than treason,’” Ray said. Ray acknowledged that he would have to add a constitutional note to the bill. This would let legislators that the bill may be legally challenged in the court system.

Ed Smart speaks with the Universe about his involvement with Operation Underground Railroad. Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart, now works Operation Underground Railroad's prevention and rehabilitation director. (Kirsten Baltich)
Ed Smart speaks with the Universe about his involvement with Operation Underground Railroad. Smart, the father of Elizabeth Smart, now works Operation Underground Railroad’s prevention and rehabilitation director. (Kirsten Baltich)

Parker Douglas, chief of staff of the Utah Attorney General’s office, said it’s the office’s policy to defend laws that are legally passed in Utah, whether they personally agree with them or not.

Ed Smart, the director of prevention and rehabilitation of Operation Underground Railroad, said he needed more time to decide if he supported the bill. Operation Underground Railroad is an organization that works with victims of the sex trade. Smart said child sex trafficking is prevalent in Utah, but it’s hard to pin down the numbers because of its secretive nature.

“I have not met one of those who have been prostituted or trafficked who have chose to be there,” Smart said.

Smart, kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart’s father, said there needs to be a greater deterrent to participating in prostitution and that he would like Utah to follow after Sweden and start cracking down on those who visit prostitutes. He said these individuals now get a slap on the wrist.

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