Target: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Goal: Protect sex trafficked children from being prosecuted for crimes associated with their exploitation.
A 13-year-old girl stands on a street corner wearing a mini skirt and high heels, frightened of what awaits her tonight yet more afraid of returning empty-handed to her pimp. An undercover police officer approaches her… and arrests her for prostitution. It seems absurd but it happens every day: instead of helping the victims of child sex trafficking, law enforcement personnel often charge them as criminals.
Child sex trafficking has long been thought of as a problem in foreign nations, not something that happens here in the United States. Yet the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that every year 100,000 minors are commercially exploited for sex, and according to the US Department of Justice the average age that a minor is sold falls near their 12th birthday. The child sex industry is indeed a US problem and business is booming.
Traffickers prey on runaways and foster children, luring them with promises of a better life then forcing them to perform sex acts with dozens of strangers for hours a day. Aided by the Internet and the increased speed of travel on interstate highways, child trafficking has grown over the last ten years to become a $32 billion dollar industry worldwide, and most of that profit belongs to traffickers in the US.
Few of the traffickers are ever brought to justice, yet often the very children being trafficked find themselves in handcuffs, arrested for prostitution and placed in juvenile detention centers. They are charged with crimes that they cannot legally consent to and instead of getting the help they need to escape a life of exploitation they wind up doubly victimized by the very system sworn to protect them. Small wonder that few of them are willing to provide information about their former pimps.
This must change. Instead of allowing children to be convicted for their own abuse and exploitation, Congress must pass national Safe Harbor legislation. Safe Harbor would protect trafficked children from being prosecuted for solicitation and other crimes associated with their exploitation. It is an essential first step in ending sex trafficking in the US.
By signing this petition you will urge the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee–Senator Leahy from Vermont and Senator Grassley from Iowa–to introduce Safe Harbor legislation to the Senate. This is a bi-partisan issue: there should be nothing political about the protection of children.
Dear Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley,
Every year in the United States 100,000 minors fall victim to child sex trafficking. Most enter the life of a sexual commodity at the age of 12. All have been raped and abused. Yet law enforcement personnel often arrest these minors and charge them with prostitution. Instead of helping them escape a life of exploitation, the American justice system is treating them as criminals.
As leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you have it within your power to introduce Safe Harbor legislation in Congress. Safe Harbor laws would protect children nationwide from being criminally charged for their own exploitation. It is a crucial first step to ending child sex trafficking in the United States.
[Your Name Here]
(image by George Hodan, taken from the Public Domain)