In the growing tragedy of American children being brutally exploited and sold in the U.S. sex trade, perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is how the justice system responds to child victims. A Russia Today reporter stated, “In the US, prostitution laws do not exempt minors from prosecution…But lawyers say, in the US, the paradox of the system is that the children are prosecuted for crimes for which they cannot legally give consent.” Every day the justice system encounters prostituted children; however, instead of helping these children and correctly labeling them as victims, the victims may be arrested and prosecuted as underage prostitutes before being turned back on the streets to their pimps.
Lucilia came from an abusive home life and at 13 years old she ran away from home and fell prey to sex trafficking. During this time, she had multiple interactions with the police, but she was never labeled as a victim and was instead processed as an adult and set back on the street. When Lucilia admitted she was 13 years old she was locked up in a juvenile jail in the Bronx and transported to Family Court in handcuffs and leg shackles. Lucilia was taken to various detention centers where she suffered severe depression.
This is not a story of rescue, restoration, or ultimately, justice.
Shared Hope International seeks to establish justice for DMST victims through proper identification of victims and vacating any past convictions they sustained as a victim of trafficking. The Protected Innocence Initiative seeks to address these issues by analyzing states on its victim-friendly procedures, expungement laws, and child protective response to domestic minor sex trafficking. The Protected Innocence Initiative also advocates that prostitution laws should apply only to adults, making minors specifically immune from prosecution. It is our hope that by strengthening state provisions for the protection of child victims, children like Lucilia will grow up in a nation that values protection and justice for the innocent.