A new study by Shared Hope International shows that many victims of sex trafficking are at risk due to “statutory schemes” in certain regions in the United States.
Shared Hope International is a non-profit group founded by Washington State legislator Linda Smith in 1998. Their mission is to “prevent the conditions that foster sex trafficking, restore victims of sex slavery, and bring justice to vulnerable women and children.”
The organization released a Juvenile Sex Trafficking (JuST) study on August 11 entitled “Eliminating the Third Party Control Barrier to Identifying Juvenile Sex Trafficking Victims.”
“Federal law defines any minor used in the commercial sex industry as a victim of child sex trafficking-regardless of the presence or control of a pimp/trafficker,” a statement from Shared Hope International explains. “However, some states and agencies continue to require an identified trafficker in order to respond to an exploited youth as a trafficking victim.”
The Office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller reports that “the average age of U.S. citizens are first used for commercial sex is 12-14.”
Any person under 18 years of age with assistance from a third party is considered a “trafficked victim.” However, many underage victims of this black market trade are treated like criminals instead of victims in many states. This is usually due to outdated laws and lack of training on behalf of law enforcement.
According to the paper’s summary, “At its core, requiring the presence of third party control ignores the fact that buyers are committing the very exploitation that trafficking laws were enacted to punish.”
The study argues there are major consequences that could result from such murky legal definitions, all of which fail to protect victims. Four of the most damaging ones include the following outcomes.
- “A child mislabeled as a ‘prostitute’ is revictimized and stigmatized”
- “Access to justice against buyers is hindered”
- “Restorative services available only to sex trafficking victims may be unavailable”
- “The buyer who pays to exploit a child may face less serious charges and penalties”
Safe harbor laws and other measures have been suggested by Human Rights activists to help protect trafficking survivors rather than punish them.
The US Department of Health and Human Services says that human trafficking is tied with illegal arms dealing as the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, generating an estimated $32 billion annually.
The JuST Policy Paper can be found here: http://sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Policy-Paper_Eliminating-Third-Party-Control_Final.pdf