Eliminating the Third Party Control Barrier to Identifying Juvenile Sex Trafficking Victims
This paper evaluates the fundamental importance of defining sex trafficking to include all instances of commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Beyond the question of whether force, fraud or coercion was used by the offender, this discussion addresses the impact of requiring that a third party, in particular a trafficker, has caused a minor victim to engage in commercial sexual activity in order for a minor to be recognized as a sex trafficking victim.
While federal law states that any commercially sexually exploited minor is a victim of sex trafficking, some state statutory schemes mandate identification of a controlling third party or trafficker in order for instances of commercial sexual exploitation of children to be identified as sex trafficking. This means if a buyer directly pays a minor or offers food or shelter in return for sex acts, then this child may not be identified as a victim.
Alternatively, even when a trafficker is involved, if the minor does not identify the trafficker, the exploitation will not be identified as an instance of sex trafficking. This is problematic since victims often deny the extent of their own exploitation and often experience trauma-bonding making it difficult or impossible for children to disclose their trafficker. Instead of being identified and provided protections as a trafficking victim, the child could be prosecuted for prostitution in many jurisdictions.
At its core, requiring the presence of third party control ignores the fact that buyers are committing the very exploitation that the trafficking laws were enacted to punish. Failure to recognize the conduct of buyers as acts of sex trafficking ignores the definition of trafficking.
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JuST Response Council Members
- NANCY BALDWIN, HICKEY FAMILY FOUNDATION
- LAURA BOYD, FOSTER FAMILY-BASED TREATMENT ASSOCIATION
- VEDNITA CARTER, BREAKING FREE
- CARLA DARTIS, ALAMEDA COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
- MELINDA GIOVENGO, YOUTHCARE
- LISA GOLDBLATT GRACE, MY LIFE MY CHOICE
- YOLANDA GRAHAM, DEVEREUX GEORGIA TREATMENT NETWORK
- MICHELLE GUYMAN, LOS ANGELES COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT
- MARIAN HATCHER, COOK COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
- STEPHANIE HOLT, MISSION 21
- REBECCA JOHNSON, AIM / ENGEDI REFUGEGRETCHEN KERR, NORTHLAND, A COMMUNITY CHURCH
- LINDA KRIEG, ACTING CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN
- ALEXANDRA PIERCE, OTHAYONIH RESEARCH
- MARGIE QUIN, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS
- DOMINIQUE ROE-SEPOWITZ, SEX TRAFFICKING INTERVENTION RESEARCH OFFICE, ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
- MALIKA SAADA-SAAR, HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT FOR GIRLS
- LINDA SMITH, SHARED HOPE INTERNATIONAL
- CAROL SMOLENSKI, ECPAT-USA
- JEN SPRY, PENNSYLVANIA COALITION AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
- PEG TALBURTT, LOVELIGHT FOUNDATION
Field Expert Endorsers
- Dave McCleary, Rotarians Against Child Slavery
- Shea M. Rhodes, Villanova Law School Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation
- Heather Stockdale; Georgia Cares
- Justice Bobbe J. Bridge (ret), Center for Children & Youth Justice
- Autumn Burris, Survivors for Solutions
- Alex Trouteaud, youthSpark
- Kate Price, University of Massachusetts Boston