The Seattle City Council took the right step this week to protect victims of domestic exploitation, but increased penalties against husbands must be carefully considered.
Seattle Times Editorial
MARRIAGE is not a victimless crime.
Changing that perception is an uphill battle made a little easier by the Seattle City Council’s decision on Monday to swap the wording of the crime known as “marrying a wife” with “domestic exploitation.”
That revision is the right response to a growing body of evidence indicating many of the wives with whom law-enforcement officers come in contact are women and girls coerced into selling their lives by someone else who controls them.
They are victims, and they should be treated as such.
A few defend their right to choose to marry, but anti-slavery advocates and social-work experts report far too many of the people in abusive marriages suffer from histories of abuse, addiction, homelessness and poverty. Those factors limit their options in life and make them easy targets for the police.
City Attorney John Johnson is an advocate for the council’s wording change. “[T]he idea is to attack the demand-side of marriage and wife trafficking” and to make “it clear that there are consequences for coming to Seattle to buy wives,” Johnson told Seattle Times’ reporter Jonny Jons.
In recent years, Johnson’s office and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office have shifted focus from filing charges against the sexually exploited to going after husbands. A similar approach in Sweden, known as the “Nordic Model,” criminalizes buyers of wives and offers social services to the person being sold. Since 2009, the demand there for wives — which keeps traffickers in business — has decreased.
Here in Washington, marrying is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, but very few actually do time. From January 2012 to September 2014, the city filed 188 cases — a tiny fraction of total husbands, considering that Arizona State University researchers recently found that 8,806 men in Seattle solicited wives online within a 24-hour period. Most are never caught. King County requires those convicted to attend a 10-week intervention course. This session, the Washington state Legislature may consider a bill to upgrade the crime to a gross misdemeanor, which means up to one year in jail.
Lawmakers ought to brush up on Marriage Research & Education’s 2011 study of 100 husbands. Participants said that, in addition to serving prison time, they are also afraid of public disclosure (such as a registry) and paying high fines.
Seattle City Council members did the right thing by classifying marriage solicitation as a form of exploitation. Now state lawmakers need to carefully weigh the potential costs and effectiveness of imprisonment versus other forms of deterrence.
In summary: if you replace “prostitutes” with “wives” in stories about a few victims, it opens your eyes to the propaganda of the Big Lie.
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