- Arkansas Moves to Decriminalize Youth Victims of Sex Trafficking Finding that “the criminal justice system is not the appropriate place for sexually exploited children because it serves to retraumatize them and increase their feelings of low self-esteem,” the Arkansas Legislature passed the “Safe Harbor Victims Act” to help protect children who are victims of sex trafficking. The law mandates an interim study on child sex trafficking and creates a fund to help pay for services and treatment for youth who are trafficked. Additionally, the law requires the state Department of Human Services to develop a statewide protocol for the delivery of services to sexually exploited children and encourages training of law enforcement and prosecutors in how to identify and provide services for sexually exploited children. S.B. 869/Act No.1267, signed into law April 16, 2013; effective August 16, 2013.
- California Expands Tattoo Removal Program for Youth
California expanded eligibility for a Division of Juvenile Justice voluntary tattoo removal program for youth ages 14 to 24. Previously, the program was only available to youth with gang-related tattoos. The new law expands eligibility to include individuals with tattoos used for identification in trafficking and prostitution. A.B. 1956/Act No. 746, signed into law September 29, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.
- California — Law Provides for Expungement of Juvenile Prostitution Convictions
California law provides that a person who has reached 18 years of age may petition the court to seal all records relating to his or her case in juvenile court if he or she has not subsequently been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, and if the person has been rehabilitated to the court’s satisfaction. The California State Legislature amended the law to include a person who was adjudicated for prostitution. Such individuals may now petition to have these records sealed without having to show they have not been subsequently convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, or that rehabilitation has been attained. Individuals who paid money, or attempted to pay money for prostitution are excluded from the relief provided by the law. A.B. 2040/Act No. 197, signed into law August 27, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.
- Florida Grants Safe Harbor to Sexually Exploited Youth: A new law in Florida specifies that sexually exploited youth must be treated as dependent rather than delinquent and that the state must provide such youth with care and services—independent of citizenship—if they are not already receiving comparable services. Services may be accessed voluntarily, as a condition of probation, or through a diversion program. The law also increases fines for soliciting prostitutes from $500 to $5,000, using the fines to fund the creation of secure safe houses with special living quarters for sexually exploited youth; provides sexually exploited youth residing in safe houses with an advocate, responsible for accompanying the youth to all important meetings and court appearances; and authorizes the pursuit of training funds to inform law enforcement officials about child sexual exploitation. H.B. 99/Act No. 2012-105, signed into law April 13, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.
- Hawaii Protects Victims of Human Trafficking: Hawaii passed legislation that authorizes a person convicted of a prostitution offense to file a motion to vacate the judgment if he or she can prove having been a victim of trafficking. S.B. 2576/Act No. 2012-216, signed into law and effective July 3, 2012.
- Louisiana Protects Child Trafficking Victims from Prosecution for Prostitution: Thanks to a new Louisiana law, youth who are victims of trafficking may not be adjudicated as delinquent for prostitution-related offenses. The law also allows youth who were victims of trafficking and were adjudicated delinquent for prostitution-related offenses to have their records expunged. H.B. 49/Act No. 446 , signed into law June 1, 2012; effective August 1, 2012.
- Ohio — Youth Who Are Victims of Human Trafficking Gain Protection under Ohio Law: Under a new Ohio law that aims to “treat victims as victims rather than as criminals,” youth accused of committing the adult act of solicitation, prostitution, or loitering or charged with offenses related to their trafficking are entitled to participate in a diversion program and receive a guardian ad litem. The juvenile court judge may make orders about the youth’s placement and services and if the court finds the youth completes these rehabilitative services, the underlying charges can be dismissed and the youth’s record can be expunged. H.B. 262/Act No. 142, signed into law and effective June 27, 2012.
- Vermont Allows Prostitution Convictions Resulting from Human Trafficking to Be Expunged: Vermont now allows a person to file a motion to vacate a prostitution conviction if the conviction was the result of the person having been a victim of human trafficking. If the motion is granted, the person’s record for the offense must be expunged. S.B. 122/Act No. 2012-94, signed into law and effective May 1, 2012.
- Washington — Victims of Human Trafficking Provided Affirmative Defense to Prostitution Charges: An affirmative defense to the charge of prostitution is now available to youth who have been victims of human trafficking. Individuals who were victims of human trafficking and were convicted of prostitution may apply to have their convictions vacated and records sealed, based on a presumption that anyone engaged in the sex trade is the subject of trafficking. S.B. 6255/Act No. 142, signed into law March 29, 2012; effective June 7, 2012.
- Georgia — Legislature Addresses Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Youth: A new law amends Georgia’s anti-human trafficking law, which encompasses the commercial sexual exploitation of youth. The law clarifies its offenses; substantially increases penalties; allows for the forfeiture of property related to the crime; limits the use of the victim’s sexual history, relation to defendant, and the ability to consent as a defense to sex trafficking; and provides that a person will not be guilty of a prostitution-related crime if the act was committed under coercion or deception while the person was a human trafficking victim. H.B. 200/Act 54, signed into law May 3, 2011; effective July 2, 2011.
- Minnesota — State Passes Safe Harbor Law Protecting Youth Victims of Sexual Exploitation: A new Minnesota law provides that sexually exploited youth under the age of 16 cannot be detained as delinquent. It also establishes mandatory diversion of first-time offenders who are 16 or 17 years old and have been exploited through prostitution. The law increases penalties against “johns” and directs the Commissioner of Public Safety to create a victim-centered response to sexually exploited youth. S.F. 1/Ch. 1, Art. 4, signed into law July 20, 2011; effective August 1, 2011 and August 1, 2014.
- Connecticut — Legislature Passes Law to Protect Sexually Exploited Children: The Connecticut General Assembly passed “An Act Providing Safe Harbor for Exploited Children,” which makes it illegal for youth younger than 16 to be charged with prostitution. Previously there was no age limit for charging youth with prostitution. The law also provides that for 16- and 17-year olds, there is a presumption that the youth was coerced into committing the offense. Lastly, the bill increases the penalties for promoting the prostitution of someone younger than 18 years old. S.B. 153/Public Act 10-115, signed into law June 7, 2010; effective October 1, 2010.
- Connecticut — Police Must Report Possible Abuse or Neglect of Youth Arrested for Prostitution: New legislation requires police to report suspected abuse or neglect of youth arrested for prostitution to the Department of Children and Families. This is part of a movement to decriminalize youth involved in prostitution, and increase the recognition that youth involved in prostitution are very often being coerced and/or abused by adults. S.B. 1044/Public Act 11-180, signed into law July 13, 2011; effective October 1, 2011.
- Washington — Legislature Addresses Sexual Exploitation of Youth: In 2009, the Washington State Legislature passed a law allowing a prosecutor to divert a case where a youth is alleged to have committed prostitution or prostitution loitering, regardless of the youth’s offense history or previous diversions. H.B. 1505/Ch. 252, signed into law April 28, 2009; effective July 26, 2009. A new law passed in 2010 takes the changes a step further: Washington law now requires a prosecutor to divert a youth alleged to have committed the offense of prostitution or prostitution loitering if it is his or her first offense; the prosecutor may divert subsequent allegations. And, as of July 1, 2011, the state may file a CHINS (Child In Need of Services) petition for sexually exploited youth and must connect such youth with services and treatment. A youth charged with prostitution who is also a victim of sexual abuse may apply for benefits from the Crime Victim’s Compensation fund. S.B. 6476/Ch. 289, signed into law April 1, 2010; Section 1 effective July 1, 2011, other sections effective June 10, 2010.
- Georgia — Legislature Protects Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation Through Child Abuse Definition: Georgia’s mandatory child abuse reporting law was expanded to help identify youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, by redefining sexual exploitation as a form of child abuse, and recognizing sexual exploitation as child abuse regardless of who is exploiting the child. Under Georgia’s previous mandatory child abuse reporting laws, many of the 200-300 youth being commercially sexually exploited in Georgia each month were unreported by professionals who could have potentially protected them. Mandatory reporters were only required to report suspicions of child sexual exploitation if they believed the youth was being exploited by a parent or caretaker. Furthermore, doctors, nurses, and other mandatory reporters in the health fields were prohibited by medical confidentiality requirements from reporting their suspicions when they encountered children who were being commercially sexually exploited by someone other than a parent. The new law provides an exception to confidentiality requirements, allowing these professionals to report the exploitation. S.B. 69/Act 151, signed into law and effective law May 5, 2009.