One-hundred-thousand. That is the number of children and teenagers estimated to be exploited in the commercial sex trade here in the United States. Polaris Project, a leading U.S. organization dedicated to ending human trafficking, helps these victims of sex trafficking find the strength to reclaim their lives after years of exploitation, hopelessness and pain.
We know that the victims of child sex trafficking are frequently only 15 to 17 years old. Some are as young as 12. Yet all too often they are arrested and prosecuted for offenses ranging from solicitation to prostitution.
Safe Harbor laws ensure that children under 18 cannot be prosecuted for prostitution. They define sexually exploited children as victims of abuse, help them find protection and support, and where possible increase funding for specialized services to help these children recover – services like long-term housing, mental health care, education and job training. Safe Harbor laws help remove the stigma of prostitution and shift the response from a criminal justice perspective to one focusing on the welfare of the child.
Today, we need more Safe Harbor laws across the country to protect victims of sex trafficking and help them reclaim their lives. Polaris Project and numerous other organizations that work with survivors of sex trafficking have found that this all-encompassing approach prevents these girls from returning to the very places and people who exploited them in the first place. In the eight states where these laws are in place, girls find the strength to live on their own. They get their GEDs, go back to school, find jobs, move into their first apartments and get a second chance at normal lives. All of this is far easier to achieve without a criminal record. They also see justice served when law enforcement focuses on arresting and prosecuting their pimps – the real criminals.
Let’s call on every state to protect child victims of sex trafficking and exploitation by passing and implementing strong Safe Harbor laws. If you see a potential case of sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 where call specialists are available 24 hours a day to connect victims of trafficking to local services and support.
All of us can make a difference in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Learn more at Bradley Myles’ News & Observer article: States need to recognize that kids caught in human trafficking are not criminals.