In 2008, New York became the first state to enact the Safe Harbor law, which treats sexually exploited children as victims rather than criminals. The groundbreaking law lets victims be directed to Family Court, where they would receive protection and services, instead of ending up in criminal court.
One aspect of the Safe Harbor law that has drawn criticism is that it applies only to victims 15 and younger. The New York Legislature passed a bill in June that would extend Safe Harbor protection to 16- and 17-year-old survivors who are at risk of re-victimization through prosecution. It is expected to be signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January.
Only 18 states have statutes providing some safe harbor protection to minor victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that serves trafficking victims, is asking lawmakers to provide victims three forms of legal protection:
• Define trafficked and commercially sexually exploited children as victims of abuse and neglect, triggering a child-protective response.
• Grant immunity from prosecution for prostitution-related offenses for any person under 18 and establish the use of safe houses rather than juvenile detention.
• Divert arrested children from juvenile delinquency proceedings to child-protection proceedings where they will have access to specialized services.
Funding is the biggest barrier to enactment and implementation of the law, said Britanny Vanderhoof, policy counsel at Polaris. “It’s an education curve, but it is leading to more prosecutions,” she said.
Learn more at Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy’s The Journal News article: N.Y. set to expand protection for exploited children.