Tracey’s life changed forever on a walk to the corner store. She was 15 and trying to get a few minutes of peace away from her abusive home.
A guy she knew from around the neighborhood pulled up next to her and asked if she was ok. He offered her a ride and listened to her talk about how much she wanted a new life. After a few months of “courtship,” Jay began to get abusive and forced her to engage in commercial sex. When she wanted to stop, he and his friends beat and raped her.
Before long, even though Tracey was a victim of child sex trafficking, the local police arrested Tracey for prostitution and placed her in juvenile detention. Tracey’s future dimmed. She was getting punished for an act that she couldn’t even legally consent to. She was a kid who needed help and support, but she was being treated like a criminal.
I’m Director of Client Services for Polaris Project, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking. Tracey’s story is the story of girls I work with every day. Tracey is a kid, not a criminal. She didn’t deserve to be locked up.
There are better policy approaches and better options, ones that literally save the lives of children and teens.
Safe Harbor laws are that better option. These laws define these sexually exploited children as victims of abuse, help them find protection and support, and grant them immunity from prosecution for prostitution while they are under 18 years of age.
Safe Harbor laws also can increase funding for specialized services like long-term housing, mental health care, educational support, and job training to help these children recover. Thirty-nine states lack these basic Safe Harbor protections – including Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Louisiana. Every state can do more to increase services for child victims of sex trafficking.
According to national estimates, there are 100,000 children in the commercial sex trade in the United States. Safe Harbor laws help all of these children get the care they so desperately need.
Polaris Project is trying to make 2013 the last year a 15-year-old can be tossed into jail and treated like a criminal despite being a victim of commercial sexual exploitation.
I cannot believe these laws have not been passed in every state. I cannot believe any lawmaker—any person—would look at an abused 15-year-old and think: jail. We must do better. Your signature tells your state legislators that you support these kids and support Safe Harbor laws to protect them. Thank you.
*Tracey’s story is the story of the 100,000 kids who are hurt by commercial sexual exploitation. To protect our clients, we’ve woven together a few of their stories.