WASHINGTON, DC, September 21, 2012 - When I was a trafficked minor, the word “trafficker” did not exist and neither did any of the Safe Harbor laws in effect today in some states.
Safe Harbor laws ensure that sex trafficked minors under the age of 18 are granted immunity from prosecution and directs them to child welfare services instead of juvenile detention if they are arrested.
Today there are only 11 states which have Safe Harbor laws in effect and 2 states which have passed some parts of this important legislation. Virginia, Maryland and the District of Colombia are not among those with Safe Harbor laws.
All states have laws in place that make sex with a child a crime. Under federal law, prostitution of a child is a form of human trafficking.
How is it then that police often arrest these same minors and prosecutors charge them with crimes if money changes hands while they are being trafficked, raped and exploited?
For legislators, law enforcement, counselors and the general public to end this double standard, they have to understand that a minor child trafficked against his or her will is a victim, even though money changed hands. These minors are not prostitutes, they are trafficked children and teens.
Every state should have a Safe Harbor law that at least prevents minors involved in the sex trade from prosecution and instead define them as minors who are victims of abuse. The law should provide recovery programs so these children and teens can be placed in safe houses and receive life skills training, education and medical and mental health care.
When a child or teen is exploited, trafficked, abused and told that they are prostitutes and criminals by traffickers, and the judicial system also tells them they are criminals by arresting them, how can they escape abuse, heal and lead productive lives?
Lately there has been a shift in the way people view human trafficking. It is covered in media just about every day and trafficking is a term people are getting used to hearing, helping to raise the awareness of the horrible practice.
However, there needs to be a bigger change in the way people view trafficked children and teens. Child prostitute or trafficked child? These words bring a very different picture to mind.
We need to encourage legislators to see that a child prostitute is, in fact, an abused trafficked child, and convince them to ensure that each and every state has Safe Harbor laws in effect.
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