Our reliance on responding to exploited children with traditional delinquency remedies is partially rooted in myths about these children. Any effort to change this overused and inappropriate response must include an education campaign to confront the myths that sustain the broken response.
MYTH: Safe Harbor will encourage trafficker activity.
FACT: Safe Harbor does not make it legal to exploit children through prostitution, stripping or any other sexual services. These laws protect children from being treated as offenders. In fact, Safe Harbor is already being used to increase penalties against traffickers and buyers. Traffickers encourage children to fear police. The more we fail to provide a caring response, the more we prove the trafficker right.
MYTH: Locking up a child acts as a deterrent to further acts of prostitution.
FACT: If anything, re-traumatizes children, increasing feelings of isolation. Detention is a poor response to what is a highly sophisticated grooming process by the trafficker. Providing a safe, supportive intervention that builds trust is far more likely to encourage a child to cooperate with police.
MYTH: Safe Harbor prevents law enforcement from keeping children safe.
FACT: Law enforcement has many ways to intervene to protect children without using prostitution laws. However, the current response doesn’t keep children safe. Traffickers often bail them out of detention, which is hardly the place for an abused child in crisis. Treating a child as an offender reinforces the child’s mistrust of the very people sent to protect him or her.