On November 19, 2014, Oregon issued its first federal sentence for a buyer of sex with a child. Ben Allen Riggs, 64, of Oregon City was sentenced in the District of Oregon under federal charges for transporting a person across state lines for purposes of engaging in prostitution – a federal offense under the Mann Act. In this case, the person was a 14-year-old girl. The hearing decided Riggs’ penalty; but it further solidified a developing precedent that buyers of children must be held accountable for their actions by facing jail time.
Historically, buyers have not commonly faced full punishment under law, but research has shown (see Shared Hope International Amicus Brief) that serious punishment would be an effective deterrent. Therefore, buyers must face maximum sentencing to be held accountable for their crimes which drive the commercial sex market by making it a profitable industry.
Shared Hope International attended the sentencing hearing to show support and solidarity in prioritizing prosecution for those who purchase sex with children. Below is an inside account of the proceedings:
The defense attorney acknowledged that Riggs was guilty of transporting a person across state lines for the purpose of prostitution and deserved punishment for this crime; but argued that Riggs was unaware that the 14-year-old child victim was a minor and asserted that Riggs should not be held liable for engaging in sex with a minor. The defense attorney argued that Riggs is sincerely sorry for this crime and will “never purchase a prostitute again.” (Note: children cannot be “prostitutes;” they are always trafficking victims if used in commercial sex.) Many of Riggs’ family members and friends attended the hearing and submitted letters of support explaining the kindness and positive moral of Riggs. One of the letters stated “nobody has been a better friend than Mr. Riggs.” According to the defense, Riggs’ was raised by a mother who operated a brothel, which he left after his sister was brutally raped, contributing to his inability to engage in a healthy sexual relationship. This attributed to Riggs’ reliance on paid sex, a crime he admits to engaging in 20-30 times previously.
U.S. Attorney Stacie Beckerman clarified the horrible consequences of this crime and Riggs’ extreme lack of innocence in this case. She reminded the court of his history of purchasing sex on a regular basis, which showed intent in this case. He requested Laura Lambden (the victim’s trafficker) bring him a “young girl” to perform oral sex on him. When the victim arrived at his home Riggs engaged in sex acts with the 14-year-old- victim and took photos of those acts, which were later found on his phone. He made the excuse that had he not been drunk on “vodka and orange juice mixed with prescription drugs, he never would have made this mistake.” Beckerman countered that Riggs knew he requested Lambden “bring someone young,” knew the 14-year-old child victim was a minor, and paid to have sex with her and that the penalty needs to reflect the seriousness of the crime. She highlighted that this is the first federal case of a buyer who purchased sex with a minor in the District of Oregon, a crime that is receiving increased attention in courts across the nation, according to studies by Shared Hope International.
In summary, the judge concluded the victim made poor life choices before and after the crime. He asserted that based on psychosexual evaluations of the defendant, Riggs is not a pedophile and had successfully overcome many obstacles in his life from his horrible childhood to his career success in spite of continuous health problems. On the contrary, he acknowledged that Riggs asked Lambden to “bring someone young,” and that he did not turn the victim away when she showed up at the door. The judge’s final remarks , while citing victim-blaming evidence asserted by the defense (and unfortunately referring to the victim as a prostitute), nevertheless acknowledged the egregiousness of purchasing sex with a child:
“We understand that the prostitute was engaged in prostitution and that she would regularly accuse men of rape if they didn’t pay her and so on, but we cannot put the blame on her! You (Riggs) are an adult! As a grown adult, you do not purchase sex with a child…period! I sentence you to 2 years jail time, 5 years’ probation and you are to register as a sex offender…”
The prosecution asked that Riggs have no access to pornography of any kind. The defense argued that adult pornography is legal, but the judge cut the defense off with the remark “I do not want this man to ever get aroused again from pornography, so yes…he is prohibited.”