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Petition for Safe Harbor Laws
Here’s an quick, simple way to take part in National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: Sign this petition for safe harbor laws by Carolina De Los Rios, Director of Client Services at Polaris Project. Here’s more about safe harbor laws:
Safe Harbor laws … define these sexually exploited children as victims of abuse, help them find protection and support, and grant them immunity from prosecution for prostitution while they are under 18 years of age.
Safe Harbor laws also can increase funding for specialized services like long-term housing, mental health care, educational support, and job training to help these children recover. Thirty-nine states lack these basic Safe Harbor protections – including Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Louisiana. Every state can do more to increase services for child victims of sex trafficking.
According to national estimates, there are 100,000 children in the commercial sex trade in the United States [source: Legislative Toolbox, that illuminates the key part of this issue in the fight against human trafficking.
Landmark Decision: Texas Supreme Court Rules In Matter of B.W. (2010) Children in Prostitution are Victims, Not Criminals
- • Thirteen-year-old B.W. flagged down the car of an undercover officer and offered to engage in oral sex for twenty dollars. She was arrested for prostitution.
- • The trial court (Family Court) found her guilty of Class B misdemeanor of prostitution; she admitted that she had “knowingly agreed to engage in sex . . . for a fee,” and received a sentence of 18-months’ probation.
- • The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, and the case was appealed, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to review her case.
- • The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the Court of Appeals by a 6-3 decision.
The Supreme Court of Texas argued in its decision:
- 1. “Because a 13 year old child cannot consent to sex as a matter of law . . . B.W. cannot be prosecuted as a prostitute.”
- • The Supreme Court argued that children below the age of 14 cannot understand the significance of agreeing to sex and, therefore, could not satisfy the “knowing” requirement of the statute. The Court cited longstanding common law, Texas statutes, and numerous cases. “The notion that an underage child cannot legally consent to sex is of longstanding origin and derives from common law.”
- 2. Children cannot be considered guilty of an act that involves their own sexual exploitation.
- • “Transforming a child victim of adult sexual exploitation into a juvenile offender was not the legislature’s intent when it enacted the laws on prostitution and delinquent conduct of a child… It is far more likely that the legislature intended to punish those who sexually exploit children rather than subject child victims below 14 years to prosecution.”
- • The court also cited legislation that “compelling a child under 18 to commit prostitution was a second degree felony” and harsher penalties for “inducing a child under fourteen to engage in sexual conduct or performance.”
- o “In passing these statutes, the Legislature has expressed both the extreme importance of protecting children from sexual exploitation, and the awareness that children are more vulnerable to exploitation by others.”
- 3. Prohibiting underage victims of prostitution from being prosecuted will not encourage more exploitation.
- • “Pimps and sexual exploiters of children may still be prosecuted for compelling prostitution and other crimes of sexual exploitation even though [the] child may not be prosecuted for prostitution.”
- • Treating child prostitutes as victims rather than criminals will also undermine the ability of pimps to play on the child’s fear of police, removing a powerful tool pimps use to assert control.
- 4. Child victims of prostitution should be provided counseling, rehabilitation, and services instead of being placed in a detention system, ill-suited to the child’s needs.
- • The Court argued a child such as B.W. would qualify for State child protective services, which would be better equipped to provide her with proper care and treatment.