BY MARIA SAUER
There is increasing awareness that minors are being forced into sex trafficking. However, this awareness is not implementing action in all states. Policies are still needed to change the attitude of a prostituted minor from being the criminal to being the victim. There needs to be an emphasis on prosecuting the perpetrators and protecting the victim. A child is victimized through sex trafficking and then victimized again through the United States’ judicial system. Rather than being sent to juvenile detention, young children and young adults need to be rescued from commercial sexual exploitation. Through the Safe Harbor law, services are to be provided in order to break the cycle of sex trafficking.
According to a report by Shared Hope International, an antitrafficking group, an estimated 100,000 children are prostituted each year, contributing to the $9.8 billion U.S. sex trafficking industry. The primary “push” and “pull” factors exploited by traffickers vary for the demand of cheap labor by prostituted women and children. In each case, the threats and abuse demonstrated by the trafficker are backed by the state’s response if the state views a prostituted minor as a criminal. If a child is discovered or is able to seek out refuge from trafficking, they need to be viewed as a victim and treated that way. In the majority of cases, children brought out of sex trafficking bring with them health problems such as sleeping and eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, drug addiction, fear and anxiety, depression and traumatic bonding with the trafficker. All of these problems are issues that need to be addressed so that the child has the opportunity to recover and flourish. However, many of these issues are not addressed. The Safe Harbor law does not specifically allocate a sum of money to provide services for trafficking victims. Nor does the policy guarantee that training will be provided to law enforcement on how to notice signs of trafficking and how to treat victims. The Safe Harbor law draws awareness towards sex trafficking in the United States, but needs to strive for more services for victims in order to fully rescue and protect them.
Rather than being arrested and placed in juvenile detention, this policy views children as victims and offers services of varying degrees to assist the needs of the child. Through this policy, there is an emphasis placed on the response needed for individuals that have fallen prey to the sex trade. There is also more of an attempt to aggressively prosecute the perpetrators. Although the Safe Harbor law is intended to rescue and protect minors, there are flaws in the policy that make it difficult to be implemented through services. However, the Safe Harbor law continues to encourage awareness, equality, justice and protection of children. With values such as these, the Safe Harbor law upholds a standard that will begin to make an impact on the way that sex trafficking is viewed and responded to in the United States.