My first blog entry for 2010-- I'd like to inaugurate this day with a quick plug for why enacting safe harbor laws in every state would do significant good in protecting children who fall victim to sex trafficking and exploitation.
There has been unfortunate protest from faith-based groups in Georgia who claim that decriminalizing prostitution for minors actually aggravates the problem, rather than protect children. In particular, Georgia Director for Concerned Women of America Tanya Ditty stated in a recent radio interview, "without the arrest there's no way to properly identify which kids need help."
I couldn't disagree more.
There have been numerous studies and testimonies that underline the reality that when a minor faces charges for prostitution, the legal process as well as the time spent in the juvenile justice system actually re-traumatizes the young person. The Shared Hope study on "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking" included a telling testimony from a teenage survivor: “I always felt like a criminal. I never felt like a victim at all. Victims don’t do time in jail, they work on the healing process. I was a criminal because I spent time in jail. I definitely felt like nothing more than a criminal.” (10)
Somehow, Ditty conflates the decriminalization of prostituted minors with condoning the sexual exploitation of minors. Pure and simple, a minor cannot consent to commercial sex acts-- a safe harbor law would help to cut against the culture that assumes that boys and girls who are being comercially sexually exploited are at fault for their own abuse.
Whether she intends to or not, Ditty's remarks carry a subtle yet dangerous judgement call--one that implies that minors who are being prostituted (technically trafficked for sex) should be divided into 2 groups: those who truly deserve help and those who should rightly face criminal punishment. Let me affirm that any and all children who faced abuse through being trafficked by a pimp, relative, boyfriend, or traded sex for survival absolutely qualify for rehabilitation services and counseling.
Instead of relying on the arrest of a minor to then determine appropriate intervention, law enforcement need to be trained in victim identification as well as work on a coordinated response with social services so that an identified minor can be separated from the criminal actions of the trafficker and/or the customer.
In the same interview, Ditty did say that it is also important for us to seek legislation that would increase stiffer sentences for those trafficking or pimping children. On this, we can certainly agree. How exactly this stands in conflict with creating new laws that would better recognize minors as victims of child sex trafficking is something I am still pondering.
Love146, in conjunction with other anti-trafficking organizations, law enforcement, social services, and government representatives is in the process of urging Connecticut state legislators to raise a safe harbor bill. May we see the fruit of advocating on behalf of all children this year. Join us by signing the petition.