What is Child Sex Trafficking in Arizona?

A.R.S. § 13-3212 criminalizes child sex trafficking, which often manifests as operating child prostitution. This is one of the most serious crimes that a defendant in the Arizona justice system can face. In most cases, child sex trafficking is a class 2 felony, and if the child under the age of 15 it can be charged as a “dangerous crime against children,” which can result in even harsher penalties for a defendant who gets convicted. A conviction under this statute usually entails mandatory prison time for 10 years or more depending on all the circumstances and the defendant’s prior criminal history.

A.R.S. § 13-3212 Defined

Under ARS 13-3212 a person commits child sex trafficking by knowingly:

  1. Causing any minor to engage in prostitution.
  2. Using any minor for the purposes of prostitution.
  3. Permitting a minor who is under the person’s custody or control to engage in prostitution.
  4. Receiving any benefit for or on account of procuring or placing a minor in any place or in the charge or custody of any person for the purpose of prostitution.
  5. Receiving any benefit pursuant to an agreement to participate in the proceeds of prostitution of a minor.
  6. Financing, managing, supervising, controlling or owning, either alone or in association with others, prostitution activity involving a minor.
  7. Transporting or financing the transportation of any minor with the intent that the minor engage in prostitution.
  8. Providing a means by which a minor engages in prostitution.
  9. Enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, transporting, making available to another or otherwise obtaining a minor with the intent to cause the minor to engage in prostitution or any sexually explicit performance.
  10. Enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, transporting, making available to another or otherwise obtaining a minor with the knowledge that the minor will engage in prostitution or any sexually explicit performance.

Note: For the purposes of this crime, “sexually explicit performance” means “a live or public act or show intended to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires or appeal to the prurient interest of patrons.” In layman’s terms, this could include such things as a strip tease or other display of sexual activity.

A person who is at least 18 years old commits child sex trafficking by knowingly:

  1. Engaging in prostitution with a minor who is under fifteen years of age.
  2. Engaging in prostitution with a minor who the person knows or should have known is fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years of age.
  3. Engaging in prostitution with a minor who is fifteen, sixteen or seventeen years of age.

Note: It is not a defense that the “child” is actually a police officer posing as a minor or a person assisting a police officer posing as a minor.

Police “Sting” Operations

Child sex trafficking charges are often brought as the result of “to-catch-a-predator” style sting operations orchestrated by the police. In this instances, no actual children will be used as part of the operation, but that still can result in charges against the defendant as if actual children has been involved.

An example of a typical police sting is described in State v. Lantz, an Arizona court of Appeals case from 2018. The court in that case describes the sting operation in detail:


On November 15, 2016, undercover officers conducted a human trafficking sting operation by posting several online advertisements for child prostitution. Lantz responded to one of these advertisements and began a text message conversation with a male detective who was posing as a single mother offering sex with her thirteen-year-old daughter in exchange for a “donation.”

After exchanging texts, Lantz asked to speak over the phone and a female detective called him. During that conversation, Lantz requested a photograph of the thirteen-year-old daughter. Two female detectives then posed for a picture, pretending to be mother and daughter. After using a software application to obscure their appearances to some degree, they sent Lantz the photograph. When Lantz received the picture, he noted that the daughter appeared to be older than age thirteen. Explaining that the daughter was nearly fourteen years old, a female detective inquired whether Lantz was still interested, and he assured her that he was.

After establishing some parameters for the sexual encounter, the female detective gave Lantz directions to the sting house. When Lantz arrived, the female detective opened the door and invited him in, and officers arrested him.


Penalties for Child Sex Trafficking

Most child sex trafficking charges are class 2 felonies. These are some of the most serious levels of felony punishable under Arizona law.

The punishment for child sex trafficking depends on the specific section of ARS 13-3212 the defendant violated. It also depends on whether the child was under 15 or not and how many prior felony convictions the defendant has. If the child is 15, 16, or 17, then the sentencing ranges for child sex trafficking could consist of the following:

  • First offense: 10 to 24 years in prison
  • Second felony offense: 17 to 31 years in prison
  • Third or more felony offense: 24 to 38 years in prison

If the child is under 15, then the crime is punished under ARS 13-705–the “dangerous crimes against children” sentencing statute (or “DCAC”). Offenses that are considered DCAC are subject to even harsher punishments. A first-time offender may be subject to a minimum prison term of at least 13 years.

The only child sex trafficking charge which is not a class 2 felony occurs when a defendant who is at least 18 engages in prostitution with a minor who is 15, 16, or 17 but whom the defendant had no reason to know was actually a minor. For example, if an adult has sex with a prostitute who–for all intents and purposes–appeared to be over 18, but in fact had deceived the defendant about her age. In this case, the crime is a class 6 felony.

Defenses to Child Sex Trafficking

  • Victim was Not Actually Below 15: While not a total defense to the underlying child sex trafficking charges, if there was no actual victim below the age of 18 involved in child prostitution, then the defendant cannot be charged with the enhanced sentencing provisions under the “Dangerous Crimes Against Children” statute. This was decided in State v. Lantz, which was discussed above, involving a police sting operation where an adult detective posed as a 13-year-old girl. The state charged the crime as under the DCAC statute in order to obtain enhanced punishment against the defendant, but the Court of Appeals held that because no actual child under the age of 15 was involved, the state could not label the case a dangerous crime against children.
  • Constitutional Violations: As in other cases, there may be constitutional violations that occurred in the case, such as violations of the Defendant’s 4th or 5th Amendment rights. These violations may lead to the suppression of the state’s evidence, the suppression of a defendant’s statements, or even a dismissal of the case.

How Salwin Law Group Can Help You

Charges for child sex trafficking under ARS 13-3212 are some of the most serious criminal charges you can face. If you have been arrested or are under investigation for child pornography, an experienced Phoenix defense attorney can help. Stewart Salwin is a felony prosecutor and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. We have represented clients in sex crimes cases and sexual exploitation of a minor charges, and know the system inside and out.

When you receive serious charges, you deserve an elite defense. We offer free consultation and can discuss your case with you today. Together we can help you get your life back.

Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 470-6119, or contact us online to make your appointment.