When The Prostitute Is A Child, It’s Not Victimless
May 27, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Former Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Valas, III was a New Hampshire Army National Guard officer with a promising future. In 2013, he had come to San Antonio for an after-action review, following his command of Task Force Jaguar in its Beyond-the-Horizons exercise in El Salvador. This is a recurring humanitarian exercise that the military has conducted in Central America for a number of years, and consists of engineering and medical support for developing countries.
While in San Antonio, Valas went to an online ad list called Backpage.com, and on two separate occasions hired a prostitute, known later in court records as “J.K.” She was paid, according to her, $150 each time for a thirty minute “session.” Many people don’t get that bent out of shape over victimless crimes, but some victimless crimes aren’t victimless. Some argue that anything that consenting adults do in private should be alright, including prostitution. They argue that Germany and Britain both have legalized prostitution and that the United States should consider that approach.[i]
The problem is that J.K. was only 15 at the time she sold her body to Valas for $150.00. J.K. still had braces, with pink bands, hardly the sign of a grown up adult. She had met her pimp, Marcus Wright, at a bus station, and had told him that she was 15 and a runaway. Wright didn’t care, telling her to advise anyone who asked that she was 18. He also introduced her to Malcom Copeland and Amber Doak, who worked with Wright to market and deliver T.J. to willing customers.
Lt. Col. Valas was arrested, tried, and convicted in federal court of Engaging in a Commercial Sex Act with a Minor. Valas was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Judge Fred Biery, to be followed by another 15 years of supervised release, and a lifetime of registration as a sex offender. Doak got 6 months, time served, with 15 years of supervision; Copeland got 18 years in prison and 15 years of supervision. Wright was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, plus 30 years.
While prostitution may be a “victimless” crime, the trafficking and marketing of underage girls as prostitutes is not victimless. They cannot consent. Hell, they can’t even sign a simple contract to buy a car or lease an apartment. How would one expect that they would have the ability to consent to sex for money? So in most states, statutory rape is a strict liability offense. You don’t have to have knowledge that the girl is, in fact, a minor.
If she is and you have sex with her, you’re in violation of the statute. She could have even shown you a fake ID that said she was 18 or 21 or whatever — doesn’t matter, it’s still a crime.
Both Valas and Copeland tried to argue that the strict liability wasn’t constitutional based on the language of the statute, that the statute required that that they either knew or recklessly disregarded that the girl was under 18-years-old. In both Copeland’s appeal and Valas’s appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals would not accept that reasoning, noting that § 1591(c) states:
In a prosecution under subsection (a)(1) in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, maintained, patronized, or solicited, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.
The statute provided a way for the government not to have to prove knowledge of age or reckless disregard of age. It could show that Valas had a “reasonable opportunity” to observe J.K., presumably with her braces.
So the Fifth Circuit affirmed the convictions. It also dismissed the other arguments of Valas, from the prosecutors withholding photos of T.J. (which the court noted were not substantially different than the six photos that were released to the defense), to the claim that Valas was conducting “research” on human trafficking. It should be noted that Valas was attending the Army War College, but his thesis did not address human trafficking at all.
And Raymond Valas, who had a promising career as a military officer, is now a former officer. J.K., the runaway, should now be an adult, and may no longer be wearing braces. Hopefully she will be able to obtain help.
Victimless? Not hardly.
[i] Nevada has considered it, and prostitution is legal in a number of counties.