Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Treating Children as Victims, Not Criminals

Child Sex Trafficking is one of the worst forms of human trafficking and child sexual abuse. It is a large, and growing, problem throughout the world and in the U.S.

Fast Facts

  • 50% of transnational victims of human trafficking are children
  • In India, it is estimated that 270,000-400,000 children are working in prostitution
  • In Nepal, the problem is spread out all over the entire country. It is estimated that there are 800 girls working in the sex trade in the Kathmandu valley alone
  • Young boys are often victimized in Pakistan ; often they are first hooked on drugs before they are forced to prostitute themselves
  • In Sri Lanka, the average age of a child who is prostituted is 8-15 years old

What about in the U.S.?

  • There are an estimated 300,000 American children at risk of sexual exploitation
  • The average age that a girl is first victimized and prostituted is 12-14
  • Over 50% of domestic victims are classified as runaway youth living on the street
  • 55% of street girls become entangled in prostitution networks
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children conservatively estimates that 100,000 children are exploited each year for prostitution in the United States

What is being done to help these children in the US?

There are numerous steps that are being taken in the US to combat human trafficking. One important legal one is the passage of legislation known as the 'Safe Harbor Acts', acts that are intended to protect victims of child exploitation. The goals of the Safe Harbor Laws are to 
  1. Prevent minor victims from being prosecuted for prostitution and
  2. Protect Child victims of sex trafficking by providing them with specialized services
Safe Harbor Laws are important because they treat victims as victims as it gives them access to the services they need, and the ability to escape 'the Life' instead of being victimized twice; once by the pimps and a second time by the system.

New York was the first state to enact the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act in 2008. Several other states followed, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Washington. The Texas Supreme Court also ruled on a case that children cannot be charged with prostitution.

In Illinois, the Safe Harbor Act for Exploited Children was signed by Governor Quinn on August 20, 2010.
Some key points
  • If a child is under the age of 18, they are immune from prosecution of prostitution offenses. This is a change from the previous age of 16
  • Children who are victimized by human trafficking or by prostitution now fall within the definition of an 'abused child.' This means that any law enforcement official who takes a child under 18 into custody for a prostitution offense must immediately repeat an allegation of Human Trafficking to DCFS. Within 24 hours, DCFS must begin their initial investigation
  • The term 'Juvenile Prostitute' is eliminated from the criminal code, and replaced with minors engaged in prostitution.
  • Finally, mistake of age is now not allowed as a criminal defense. A pimp or solicitor cannot argue that they thought the minor was above the age of 18
New York has similar legislation. In regards to services, the legislation goes a couple steps further to ensure that victims have an advocate during all steps of the process.
  • Advocates: Must accompany child to court
  • Housing: Safe Houses must, either directly or through written agreement with another agency, 
    • Housing
    • Assessment
    • Case management
    • Medical care
    • Legal services
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Must have service plan for
    • Counseling and therapeutic services
    • Education services including life skills, and planning services to transition back into the community
  • OCFS must offer appropriate services to a sexually exploited child
  • Section gives the department or any person the authority to file a care and protection petition or a CHINS petition if a sexually exploited child is unable or unwilling to participate in services
However, this is only nine out of 50 states that have such legislation. It is up to individuals to motivate their representatives to pass similar Safe Harbor Legislation. See the Polaris Project on ways that you can take action:

Project Development Intern

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