Maine sex trafficking laws: the new promoting prostitution crime

Sex trafficking law in maineSex trafficking became a crime in Maine in 2013. This law absorbs the old promotion of prostitution crime and uses many of the same terms and definitions. Compelling a person into prostitution has always been a serious felony in Maine, but the sex trafficking law expands the definition of “compelling” and provides many more ways for this conduct to be charged as a felony offense. That crime is now called aggravated sex trafficking and it has a 10 year maximum prison sentence.

Sex Trafficking Defined

Maine’s sex trafficking law provides that a person is guilty of sex trafficking if he knowingly promotes prostitution. The basic law is found at 17-A §853.

Of course, sex trafficking doesn’t mean much unless you know how “Promotes Prostitution” is defined. That comes from 17-A §851(2):

  • Causing or aiding another to commit or engage in prostitution, other than as a patron;
  • Publicly soliciting patrons for prostitution
  • Providing people for purposes of prostitution
  • Leasing or otherwise permitting a place controlled by the defendant, alone or in association with others, to be regularly used for prostitution
  • Owning, controlling, managing, supervising or otherwise operating, in association with others, a house of prostitution or a prostitution business
  • Transporting a person into or within the State with the intent that such other person engage in prostitution; or
  • Accepting or receiving, or agreeing to accept or receive, a pecuniary benefit pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person, other than with a patron, whereby the person participates or the person is to participate in the proceeds of prostitution.

Sex trafficking is normally a class D misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2000 fine. As detailed below, sex trafficking can sometimes be charged as a class C or B felony. Click this link for more on misdemeanor and felony sentencing in Maine.

Class C Felony Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking can be charged as a class C felony punishable by up to 5 years prison. For this crime, the defendant must commit sex trafficking by promoting prostitution and have two or more convictions for sex trafficking, the following Maine crimes, or their equivalent in another state. The prior convictions must be within 10 years of the current offense:

  • Engaging in prostitution 17-A §853-A
  • Engaging a prostitute 17-A §853-B
  • Patronizing prostitution of minor or person with mental disability 17-A §855.

Aggravated Sex Trafficking

17-A §852 defines aggravated sex trafficking. It’s a class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law provides that a person is guilty of aggravated sex trafficking if they knowingly promote prostitution:

  1. By compelling a person to enter into, engage in or remain in prostitution
  2. Of a person less than 18 years old; or
  3. Of a person who suffers from a mental disability that is reasonably apparent or known to the actor and that in fact renders the other person substantially incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct involved.

The heart of Maine’s aggravated sex trafficking law is the broad definition of the term “compelling.” The promoting prostitution statute included sections 1 and 2 but the rest was added in 2013. Compelling is now defined to include:

  1. The use of a drug or intoxicating substance to render a person incapable of controlling that person’s conduct or appreciating its nature;
  2. Withholding or threatening to withhold a scheduled drug or alcohol from a drug or alcohol-dependent person. A “drug or alcohol-dependent person” is one who is using scheduled drugs or alcohol and who is in a state of psychic or physical dependence or both, arising from the use of the drug or alcohol on a continuing basis;
  3. Making material false statements, misstatements or omissions;
  4. Withholding, destroying or confiscating an actual or purported passport or other immigration document or other actual or purported government identification document with the intent to impair a person’s freedom of movement;
  5. Requiring prostitution to be performed to retire, repay or service an actual or purported debt; and
  6. Using force or engaging in any scheme, plan or pattern to instill in a person a fear that, if the person does not engage or continue to engage in prostitution, the actor or another person will:
  • Cause physical injury or death to a person;
  • Cause damage to property, other than property of the actor;
  • Engage in other conduct constituting a Class A, B or C crime or criminal restraint;
  • Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges or deportation proceedings to be instituted against some person;
  • Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, regardless of veracity, tending to subject some person, except the actor, to hatred, contempt or ridicule;
  • Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information regarding another person’s legal claim or defense;
  • Use a position as a public servant to perform some act related to that person’s official duties or fail or refuse to perform an official duty in a manner that adversely affects some other person; or
  • Perform any other act that would not in itself materially benefit the actor but that is calculated to harm the person being compelled with respect to that person’s health, safety or immigration status.

There is a new enthusiasm to prosecute these cases. Prosecutors, especially those in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, are coming to believe that a large proportion of women involved in the sex trade are not there voluntarily. While DAs once focused on charging the johns and prostitutes themselves, they now try to get these people to inform on those who facilitate and profit from the sex work.

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