On December 13, 2012 a 17 year old girl in Iowa was arrested after she solicited an undercover officer for sex on Backpage.com. This girl told police that she was being forced into prostitution by her abusive boyfriend who has allegedly beat her and threatened to kill her.
Now, the Polk County, Iowa attorney’s office wants to prosecute her for prostitution as an adult. The girl’s attorney, Paul White, has tried to argue that she should be protected by Iowa Code 710A which gives “an affirmative defense” to human trafficking victims who could not escape due to threat of injury. The law is supposed to target pimps and others who have forced someone into the sex trade for financial gain.
A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice. If the girl is prosecuted as a prostitute in this case, what justice is being served? Charging this girl does nothing to prevent other people from being forced into the sex trade. It does nothing to help improve this girl’s life and get her out of the sex trade. Wouldn’t justice best be served here if the prosecutor, John Sarcone, focused his efforts not in prosecuting this minor who has been forced into commercial sexual activity but in prosecuting the pimp who forced her into the sex trade?
Iowa’s neighbor, Illinois, has passed sweeping legislation when it comes to minors in the sex trade. The Illinois Safe Children’s Act was signed into law in 2010. Instead of placing minors who have been found to be engaging in commercial sexual activity in the criminal system, the Act places these minors in the child protection system. Illinois has recognized that minors (anyone under the age of 18) do not have the capacity to consent to their own commercial sexual activity. The law also states that these minors are victims of exploitation and not perpetrators of prostitution. Iowa has tried to come up with new human trafficking legislation, but it needs to go further, as do many other states The Illinois Safe Children’s Act should be a model for the nation. It is only through protection not prosecution of minors, that justice can truly be served for those forced into the sex trade.