Having sex with a child prostitute is despicable. Young men and women lured or coerced into prostitution at the age of 14 or 15 or even younger are often the victims of ongoing abuse at the hands of those who control their lives. Yet pimps continue to seek out youngsters because there’s a demand for their services.

Senate Bill 673 seeks to change that, not by prosecuting the prostitutes, but by going after the johns who hire them. Approved in its original form by the Oregon Senate on April 30, it has undergone revision in the House of Representatives that improves on that original.

Currently, seeking the services of a prostitute is considered a misdemeanor in Oregon. The Senate bill changes that, at least where those under the age of 18 are concerned. Originally, they made any conviction for paying for a child prostitute a felony, though that has been changed in the House amendments. With those changes, a first conviction would continue to be a misdemeanor, but any subsequent arrests and convictions would be treated as felonies.

The difference between the two is nothing to sneeze at. Someone convicted of the misdemeanor may have to pay a fine of $10,000, spend 30 days in the local jail and attend a john school to learn more about child sex trafficking. A first felony conviction can mean up to three years in a state prison and registration as a sex offender.

In a relationship where deception is often the name of the game, a would-be john could have difficulty deciding if the person in the shadows is 18 or 16 or younger. Under those circumstances, a one-time pass on prison time and a life as a registered sex offender seems reasonable.

The key, however, is one-time pass. Second arrests and convictions would be treated as felonies, as they should be. And that, we suspect, will be enough to keep at least some johns far, far away from the sex trade, lessening demand for young prostitutes.

The bill awaits approval in the House, then a vote on the changes in the Senate. It is a reasoned approach to a terrible problem and should be approved.