State Rep. Paul Ray

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, sits on the House floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 8, 2017. 

SALT LAKE CITY — Sex workers would be immune from criminal prosecution when they report rapes, assaults, robberies and other crimes, under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

Those who are victims of a crime may fear coming forward due to possible prosecution for prostitution or sexual solicitation, sponsors told the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Wednesday.

"Most agencies won't prosecute anyway," said Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield, who this year co-chaired a review of Utah's criminal statutes looking for improvements.

"We are hoping to get these sex workers to come forward," Ray said. "If we put it in statute, if they come report, they will receive immunity and be treated as a victim or witness. We can use that to shield them."

He said serial offenders prey upon sex workers because "they know they can," Ray said.

In another provision of the Criminal Code Task Force Amendments bill, the Legislature also may be finally getting around to repealing laws that prohibit adultery and sodomy.

"We can't prosecute it, so why have it on the books," Ray said.

Penalties associated with consensual sodomy and adultery were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

The interim committee also endorsed a recommendation that Utah's "Romeo and Juliet" laws be applied to sexting.

For example, consensual sex between an older juvenile, such as a 17-year-old, and an 18-year-old adult is not criminal. However, if they exchange erotic phone messages, the 18-year-old commits a third-degree felony.

"Sexting should have the same nuanced and escalating penalties based on age of the participants that sex does," the task force report said.

The interim committee's recommendations will be submitted to the 2019 Legislature.

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