Nine states are working on laws this year to ensure that the definition of child abuse includes the crime of child sex trafficking. You can take action to support these bills! See the list of those 9 states below.
Why does this definition matter?
As a nation, comprised of both federal and autonomously-acting state law, we have collectively acknowledged through legislation that domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is a horrendous sexual crime in and of itself. Yet, at the heart of child sex trafficking is the recurrent rape and molestation of a child.
Subtracting the monetary exchange, we would label the crime as child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape. Yet, only 23 states define child sex trafficking, in all its forms, as child abuse. This fails to fully identify the dynamics of the crime. Most importantly, however, failing to identify DMST as a form of child abuse interferes with a systematic and consistent child protective response.
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Providing a systematic response to survivors
Following extensive legal research and gathering of field guidance, Shared Hope’s JuST Response Council released the Protective Response Model, a composition of emerging best practices for responding to child sex trafficking. Amongst the numerous practices that have proven successful and victim-centered is equipping child welfare systems with the tools, knowledge, and structure to provide coordinated screenings, protection, and services to child victims of sex trafficking.
However, without amending the definition of child abuse to include all forms of child sex trafficking, child welfare agencies are unable to respond in such cases. The alternative scenario is local and state stakeholders are forced to piecemeal together a service response for victims. At best, this response will vary child-to-child. At worst, and most realistic, most children are not afforded a response at all.
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Further, amending the definition of child abuse to include all forms of child sex trafficking, including trafficking that occurs at the hands of a non-familial perpetrator, aligns state law with the federally-enacted Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. As a result, the federal Act and state-led responses have served as goalposts for the remaining 27 states that have yet to acknowledge this form of violence as child abuse.
While the secondary, service-oriented responses vary largely state-to-state, amending the definition is a vital first step in opening the door for a coordinated, child welfare response. This statutory foundation is the building block for developing a victim-centered, individualized service plan for any and all children who are victims of sex trafficking. Ensuring that all 50 states and D.C. include DMST as a form of child abuse will close national legal holes and prevent some child victims from falling through the cracks.
This legislative session, Shared Hope is excited to be supporting nine states with pending legislation that would remove barriers to child welfare involvement. Please join us in taking action to ensure child sex trafficking victims in the following states can be identified as victims of child abuse, regardless of the offender’s familial status to the child:
- Arizona, House Bill 2238
- Arkansas, Senate Bill 271– PASSED!
- Hawaii, House Bill 1099/Senate Bill 965
- Idaho, Senate Bill 1005– PASSED!
- Maryland, SB 308/HB 632
- Maryland, SB 912/ HB 1219
- Missouri, HB 1112
- New Jersey, Assembly Bill 2906
- Tennessee, Senate Bill 553/House Bill 615
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