The recent underage sex scandal which shook the Oakland police department highlights the child sex trafficking problem that California and the United States faces.
According to the FBI, 656 children nationally were arrested in 2013 for prostitution, although actual numbers are estimated to be much higher.
Presently, only ten states have laws which grant minors some immunity from being prosecuted as a prostitute. This is despite the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which governs that any minor under the age of 18 who is being sold for sex is a trafficking victim, not a criminal.
According to this federal law, children of any age are not legally capable of consenting to sex, let alone be charged for selling their bodies for sex.
But, police in the majority of states still treat trafficking victims as prostitutes or criminals, simply because states aren’t required to abide by federal law unless they are acting against the Constitution.
For example, a recent judicial report from Northern California’s Contra Costa County underscored how minors arrested for sex were being housed in juvenile halls like criminals because there are no other facilities available to them.
California, however, represents how states can be divided on the issue.
Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office of Los Angeles County declared they would no longer arrest children for prostitution. The sheriff explained that children in this situation were victims of rape, not criminals themselves.
The Director of the NGO Human Rights for Girls, Malika Saada Saar, discussed the ways in which trafficking victims are wrongly perceived by law officials. She told Fusion, “There’s an entrenched perspective on the part of law enforcement, prosecutors, and legislators that these are bad girls making bad decisions as opposed to victims of a heinous crime.”
In a statement to the Senate at the end of June, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley explained that new tools and funding have been provided to strengthen the TVPA.
Even so, the majority of states still haven't changed their laws yet as the TVPA has proven to be fairly worthless at state level. By 2014, 22 states had attempted to pass safe harbor laws like Washington, D.C. has, but only three states offer full immunity to victims: Delaware, Washington, and New Jersey.
The unfortunate fact remains that in the majority of states, minors continue to be charged and prosecuted for prostitution just as adults are.
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