U.S. failing to protect children from sex trafficking
March 2012 – What is the appropriate punishment for a 40-year-old man who buys a 13-year-old girl for sex?
As appalling as it is to ask that question, it is even more appalling to see some states’ answers. In Oregon, a man who pays for a minor child to perform a sex act is only jailed for seven days.
In other states, Texas for example, the jail time for the first offense of sexually trafficking a minor is 5-99 years. A second offense requires a minimum 25-year sentence but can be as long as 99. Both offenses come with a $10,000 fine.
Other states do not prosecute the buyer at all, but send the victimized child into the juvenile penal system as a prostitute and, in some cases, make her register as a violent sex offender.
Shared Hope International, an organization that fights human sex trafficking, and the American Center for Law and Justice, an organization that focuses on constitutional and human rights laws worldwide, spent years studying how the United States combats sex trafficking of minors within its borders. Shared Hope conducted over 297 interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement officials; federal and state prosecutors; juvenile court personnel; juvenile probation and detention personnel; public defenders; child protective services personnel and services/non-governmental organizations in preparation for what it calls the Protected Innocence Initiative.
The PII came from the knowledge that domestic minor sex trafficking must be fought on the state level. To that end, Shared Hope developed the Protected Innocence State Report Card as a way of objectively grading each state’s effort in combating domestic minor sex trafficking. Each state was given a grade from A to F. The report card informs state attorneys general and the general population of not only where they stand in relation to other states, but also what they can do to improve.
Shared Hope used six distinct criteria for the grading.
▶ Criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking: Does the state have a definition of commercial sexual exploitation of children, CSEC, as a separate and distinct offense from general sexual offenses? The goal is to make the sexual exploitation of a child more dangerous for sexual predators in every state.
▶ Criminal provisions addressing demand: How does the state handle the buyer of a sexually exploited minor? Does he face substantial jail time and financial penalties? Does he have to register as a sex offender after conviction?
▶ Criminal provisions for traffickers: Does the state have sufficient penalties for traffickers? Do penalties for creating and distributing child pornography include sufficient jail time and forfeiture of assets? Can parental rights be terminated if parents are guilty of trafficking minor children?
▶ Criminal provisions for facilitators: Does the state consider the acts of assisting, enabling or financially benefitting from child sex trafficking as criminal offenses in the state sex trafficking statute? Is promoting and selling child sex tourism and child pornography illegal and prosecuted under state law?
▶ Protective provisions for the child victims: Does the state have a definition for a victim of CSEC? Are minors immune from prostitution laws and treated as trafficked victims? Are victimized children provided with a child protection response, including specialized shelter and services instead of being detained in juvenile detention facilities? Does state policy provide victim-friendly procedures and protections in the trial process for minors under the age of 18?
▶ Criminal justice tools for investigation and prosecution: Does the state provide training on human trafficking and domestic minor sex trafficking for law enforcement and is that training mandatory? Can investigations use wiretapping to investigate the crime of minor sex trafficking?
The PII scale rated all 50 states. None received an A.
■ Four received a B
■ Six received a C
■ Fourteen received a D
■ Twenty-six received an F
To see how your state rated, and to find PII recommendations, visit www.sharedhope.org.
These report cards were presented to the attorney general of every state, several of whom already have plans to raise their states’ grades within the next 12 months.
AFA urges readers to call or write your attorney general and encourage him to take this grade seriously. To learn how to contact your attorney general, visit the National Association of Attorneys General on the Internet at www.naag.org or call 202-326-6000.