Over the past five years, 12 states in America have passed laws to stop treating young girls and boys arrested for prostitution as criminals but as victims of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. Momentum is building toward a nationwide policy of treating young people as sex trafficking victims not prostitutes. Three bills are being debated in the U.S. Congress this month and six other states have legislation pending. The plan is for states to provide these victims with housing and counseling.
But the money allocated for housing and the intensive support services required to help these already deeply traumatised youth is grossly inadequate, experts in child welfare and sex trafficking say. As public budgets are slashed at every level across the country, it is a struggle to find the resources needed to deliver appropriate support. Without a strong safety net, experts say, the risks for girls returning to the streets are significant.
“It is a huge problem, an absolute gaping hole,” agreed Malika Saada Saar, executive director of Rights4Girls, which focuses on the human rights of marginalized young women and girls in the United States. “There has to be a comprehensive system of care for trafficked girls, trauma-informed care.” Getting adequate funding is proving challenging, and help from churches, foundations and other private assistance is unable to fill the gap.
Intricately interwoven with the issue is a social services network in the United States that is so badly broken it has become a feeder system for trafficking victims, advocates say. So while changing the law to prevent sex-trafficked children from going to jail is a welcome step forward, at the same time it is exposing weaknesses in the social safety net that contributed to the problem in the first place.
Learn more at Stella Dawson’s Thomson Reuters Foundation article: US laws to stop jailing child sex-trafficking victims expand but funding to help victims falls short.