By: Eleanor Goldberg, The Huffington Post
A number of states are cracking down on these crimes by better protecting victims, instead of criminalizing them.
It remains a crime largely hidden from public view, but U.S. states are at least starting to take a more forthcoming approach to combating child sex trafficking.
When Shared Hope, a nonprofit that fights sex trafficking, released its first assessment of the nation’s response to its youngest victims in 2011, 26 states received failing grades.
This year, no states failed and half the nation earned an A or B on their report card.
But while figures are still concerning, with more than 100,000 children being exploited into sex trafficking every year, a number of states are cracking down on these crimes by better protecting victims, instead of criminalizing them, and closing up loopholes that enabled offenders to avoid jail time.
These 10 states scored the best for their efforts in combating child sex trafficking.
No. 10 Florida, 86.5
In an effort to better protect exploited minors, Google, the Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls) and the McCain Institute launched the “No Such Thing” campaign last January to urge authorities to stop criminalizing children who are victims of sex trafficking. Since by federal law anyone under 18 who performs a commercial sex act in exchange for compensation is a victim of trafficking, they shouldn’t, by definition, be able to be charged as prostitutes.
In Florida, sexually exploited minors are deemed victims of sex trafficking. and the law notes that “a minor is unable to consent to such behavior.”
No. 9 Oklahoma, 87
Oklahoma climbed from a “C” to a “B” grade and is working to go after all parties involved in child sex trafficking.
Assisting, enabling or benefiting financially from the crime are included as criminal offenses in the state sex trafficking statute.
No. 8 Illinois, 87
Illinois has also ramped up its efforts in protecting exploited children by deeming them“immune” from being prosecuted for prostitution. After an officer identifies a child victim, he’s then expected to connect with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services State Central Register, which is responsible for launching an initial investigation into child abuse or child neglect within 24 hours.
No. 7 Iowa, 87.5
A major flaw in the justice system is that the buyers who demand sex from minors often remain nameless and faceless and aren’t arrested at all.
Iowa is working to combat that issue by classifying anyone who solicits sexual services from a minor as guilty of a class “C” felony. A first conviction is punishable by imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
No. 6 Minnesota, 90
Often, the law allows traffickers and buyers to claim consent as a defense, shifting the blame to the child trafficking victim. Minnesota has gone so far as to declare that when it comes to prostitution or sex trafficking, “consent or age of the victim is not a defense.”
No. 5 Texas, 90.5
Texas is now coming down particularly hard on people who knowingly or unknowingly solicit sex from children.
Engaging in prostitution is treated as a felony of the second degree if the person solicited is younger than 18 years of age, regardless of whether the offender knew the victim’s age at the time the crime was committed.
The charge carries a sentence of five to 99 years and a fine of up to $100,000.
No. 4 Montana, 90.5
The stringency of Montana’s child sex trafficking laws enabled the state to jump from a “D” to “A” this year.
Montana doesn’t allow offenders to claim they believed the child was an adult as a defense. The punishment carries imprisonment for a term of 100 years, a fine of up to $50,000 and requires offenders to complete a sexual offender treatment program.
No. 3 Washington, 92
Traffickers see the Internet as an optimal resource for identifying and luring in victims, since it’s challenging for authorities to monitor it.
But in Washington, if a person so much as communicates with a minor, or someone he believes to be a minor, for “immoral purposes,” which includes the purchase or sale of commercial sex acts through electronic communications, that qualifies as a class C felony. Such communication includes email and text messaging.
No. 2 Tennessee, 93.5
In Tennessee, soliciting sex from a minor is punishable as “trafficking for commercial sex acts”and comes with either a Class A or B felony charge. A Class A felony carries imprisonment from 15 to 60 years and a fine of up to $50,000. A Class B felony is punishable by imprisonment for eight to 30 years and a possible fine of up to $25,000.
Offenders who attempt to solicit minors over the Internet would constitute violating a number of offenses, including rape of a child, trafficking for commercial sex acts and aggravated sexual battery.
No. 1 Louisiana, 99.5
Commercial sexual exploitation of children laws make specific types of exploitation of a minor a criminal act.
A number of states, including Louisiana, employ CSEC laws when it comes to child sex trafficking cases, which is a “better” method of identifying victims and addressing these offenses, according to Shared Hope.
An offender in Louisiana who exploits a minor under 18 faces imprisonment at “hard labor” of 15 to 50 years and a fine of up to $50,000. If the victim is younger than 14, the sentence is between 25 and 50 years and carries up to a $75,000 fine.