For the past seven months, ECPAT-USA has been working with WITNESS to make a short documentary on new state laws and approaches to commercially sexually exploited children. Over the last few months, we’ve traveled the country and interviewed many experts from law enforcement, juvenile justice, advocate organizations and treatment programs. We also had the honor of interviewing a courageous survivor whose compelling and inspiring story will be the feature of our film. It has been a true honor to meet and work with these incredible individuals as well as WITNESS, our amazing partner.
Recently we screened a rough cut of the film to friends, staff, interns and others. They provided excellent feedback and recommendations on how to improve our work as we turn the corner toward a final cut. It was exciting to see how much progress has been made…but there is still much to do!
The film will focus on the fact that children exploited in prostitution are, generally, treated as juvenile offenders in most states. This happens despite their abuse, trauma and immaturity. Juvenile justice is not the appropriate tool to provide care for a crime victim. Our reliance on it only perpetrates an already abusive cycle, trapping the child in feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Even worse, the juvenile record the child receives can cause major obstacles for future employment, especially if the record includes prostitution arrests. It will take time but a shift in how we assist children must take place.
Luckily, there are glimmers of hope; our new film will discuss efforts to change how children are treated by the system. Experts will talk about what is needed, why reform is critical, and what’s new in state policy. States like Vermont, Illinois, Washington, Connecticut and New York have all passed laws that attempt to protect children from criminalization. More states will follow. We must be sure that the law and our practice reflect the fact that commercially sexually exploited children are victims of abuse.
We will keep you updated as the film progresses and let you know when it’s complete. ECPAT-USA and WITNESS hope it will be a useful tool in pressing for reform legislation and other efforts to treat these children as victims of a crime and provide them the services they need to restore their lives.