WASHINGTON, D.C., Every state now has a law covering child sex trafficking according to an annual State Report Card released by Shared Hope International (SHI), the only U.S. NGO working in every state to end child sex trafficking through legal reform.
“But kids can still be prosecuted as criminals in 31 states because law has not kept up with reality – the reality is that these children are victims of sex trafficking and cannot be criminals at the same time for the same thing,” said SHI founder Linda Smith, at a press conference in Orlando, FL where the National Foundation for Women Legislators is meeting.
SHI started the annual report card—known as the Protected Innocence Challenge—six years ago, in 2011, when 26 states got Fs and 15 had Ds. This year 30 states have As and Bs.
While she commended legislators and activists for the progress they have made, “We must stop criminalizing kids for crimes committed against them!” declared Smith. “Domestic minors are twice condemned: first by sex buyers and the voracious commercial sex trade, then by the juvenile justice system.”
“Only when buying sex becomes very costly—meaning steep fines and jail time—will we be able to prevent this crime from happening in the first place,” Linda observed. Shared Hope research shows that a very small percentage of buyers are arrested and even fewer do time.
Although the majority of minors identified in the commercial sex industry are girls, an increasing number of service providers across the U.S. say young men are victimized too.
Dr. Brook Bello, founder of More Too Life and Florida’s 2016 Advocate of the Year, has worked with hundreds of sex trafficking survivors.
Regarding sex buyers, Dr. Bello admonished, “Bringing cash to the scene of the crime should not give you immunity.”
Alyssa Beck, Survivor Advocate said, “The system failed me at age 15 by not recognizing that I was a victim. Instead I was arrested. Men who bought sex with me were never brought to justice.”
Linda Smith, served as a state legislator and Member of Congress from Washington State (1983-1998), and is the author of Renting Lacy (2009). She founded Shared Hope in 1998.
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