Nonprofit’s annual evaluation of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., shows progress in certain states’ legal protections and supports for victims, gives 32 states failing grades for laws addressing child and youth sex trafficking
WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 15, 2023—Tennessee is the highest-performing state for laws to protect children and youth from sex trafficking and the first to achieve a grade of A in Shared Hope International’s Report Cards on Child and Youth Sex Trafficking, released today. As the only U.S. nonprofit organization working in every state to advance legislative protections for child and youth sex trafficking survivors, Shared Hope’s 2023 Report Cards for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., gave the majority of states – 32 – a grade of F, while Florida (B), Minnesota (C), California (C), and Washington (C) ranked in the top five of highest grade earners behind Tennessee.
The Report Cards are used to press for a national standard of victim-centered justice, which can be achieved only if all states are actively working to develop and implement robust protections and just responses to children and youth who have experienced trafficking. Through the Report Cards, Shared Hope is pushing states to ensure all minor victims of sex trafficking have access to protective care and services that help survivors heal and rebuild their lives.
“We applaud the progress that states have made in recent years, especially Tennessee in earning an A this year, according to our grading criteria,” said former U.S. Congresswoman and Shared Hope Founder and President Linda Smith. “At the same time, many states continue to struggle in their legislative efforts. This creates a wild patchwork of statutes across the country, with the number and quality of legal protections and responses literally all over the map. Regardless of state of residence, no minor should be punished for their own trafficking victimization. Instead, these minors deserve critical services and care.”
The Report Cards are the result of a comprehensive analysis and assessment of all legal responses to child and youth sex trafficking in each state. While Shared Hope recognizes a range of policy, practice, and cultural responses to sex trafficking victims in each state, the Report Cards evaluate only statutes and use 40 policy goals in six issue areas in its grading system. States are assigned up to 2.5 points for each policy goal for a possible total score of 100 (with a possibility of up to 10 extra credit points) and then assigned a letter grade – A, B, C, D, or F – based on their score.
The Report Cards are part of a larger toolkit that Shared Hope has produced for each state, which includes a State Analysis Report specific to each state’s statutes on child and youth sex trafficking. Shared Hope has produced the Report Cards and state analyses annually since 2011 as a tool to assist public policy activists and state elected officials in developing and advocating for better laws to support sex trafficking survivors.
In addition to the letter grades that Shared Hope has given to each state, the toolkit for each state this year includes the addition of a Safe Harbor Scorecard. This component was added to support and assist efforts as most states continue to develop robust Safe Harbor laws. Safe Harbor laws ensure victims of child and youth sex trafficking are not involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system but are instead directed toward restorative and protective services. Sustainable protections for vulnerable youth must start with laws that prohibit arresting, detaining, charging, and prosecuting all minors for prostitution offenses, while also requiring law enforcement to direct children and youth to specialized services and care. These laws are a subgroup of all statutes covered by the Report Cards and are at the core of Shared Hope’s policy goals. The organization has been working on safe harbor laws for the last 12 years out of its total 25 years of existence.
“As states make significant legislative reforms to move away from criminalizing survivors, access to appropriate services is critical to successful implementation of safe harbor laws,” said Christine Raino, Senior Director of Public Policy at Shared Hope. “This necessary and encouraging shift is demonstrated by this year’s top-scoring states, which have all appropriated substantial state funds towards specialized services for trafficked children and youth.”
The national average of numerical scores on the 40 policy goals is 57.9 for 2023. The average has risen from 51.2 in 2022 and 47.9 in 2021, the year that Shared Hope strengthened its grading criteria to shift the focus from criminal laws to victim-centered responses and services. Prior to that, Shared Hope had issued its annual Report Cards for ten years under a different evaluation framework emphasizing criminal law responses.