THE CURRENT RESPONSE DOESN’T WORK
According the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a person under 18 who is induced to perform a commercial sex act is a victim of a severe form of trafficking (22 U.S.C. 7102). Yet, under state prostitution statutes, a person engaging in a commercial sex act is committing a crime, even if that person is under 18.
These conflicting definitions send mixed messages about how our society and legal system should be treating child victims.
Even if law enforcement correctly identifies the person as under 18, police are most likely to treat her as a juvenile offender, not a victim of human trafficking. There are many reasons for this — a lack of training, lack of alternative resources for victims, and police misperceptions about what child victims experience.
By relying on the juvenile justice system, we allow an endless cycle of arrest/detention and abuse for these child victims. The cycle increases the child’s trauma as well as her distrust for the system and wastes precious time that could be used more effectively to intervene with appropriate services and support.
IMPROVING THE RESPONSE
To correct the system’s current response to the sexual exploitation of children, some states have passed what are often called “safe harbor” laws.
Safe Harbor legislation can:
ECPAT-USA provides guidance, policy recommendations, and advocacy support to organizations in states across the country to improve the legal and system response to exploitation. We are proud to support the efforts of local partners who are leading the fight to protect the children in their state.
While one Safe Harbor law may not be able to achieve all these things, it will be a catalyst for a victim-centered response. We must provide exploited girls and boys as many opportunities as they need to break free from their abuse and regain control of their lives.
Information by State
Find summaries, links to legislative text, and other information on bills that have passed or are particularly noteworthy.
What I Been Through Is Not Who I Am
20 minute documentary video / five expert extended interviews / co-produced by WITNESS