Protect Child Victims of Sex Trafficking from Prosecution

Target: Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller III

Goal: Improve legal and system response to sex trafficking, and push to exempt sexually trafficked children from prosecution nationwide

In a nationwide operation to crack down on child sex trafficking, the FBI freed 105 victims of child prostitution, only to put them in handcuffs shortly after. According to a report by CNN, FBI’s Director of the Criminal Investigative Division identifies this instance as “the largest sweep to date,” with 28 searches, 129 seizures of cash, drugs vehicles and firearms, and 150 arrests. And apparently, some of the arrests included children.

Knowing this particular “iteration” showed a 30-40 percent increase in ‘identifying both victims and pimps’ lends little comfort to a glaring legal incongruence: despite federal protection of sexually trafficked minors from prosecution, several states may still prosecute children forced to perform commercial acts as criminals. In a gross reflection of how we fail to protect our most vulnerable communities, legal exemption from prosecution in the form of “safe harbor” laws is provided to these children in only nine states.

Worse still, this lack of protection has devastating consequences for the health and well-being of the child. After the trauma of sexual slavery, being arrested and imprisoned in juvenile detention brings children to rates of post-traumatic stress disorder higher even than war veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some research. Aside from being sexually, emotionally, and physically abused, some children face drug addiction, pregnancy, and severe physical health problems.

There is an alternative to jailing children for the atrocities committed against them. “Safe harbor” laws would ensure strict punishment for sellers of children and eliminate the legal discrepancy between federal and state law to exempt victims of child prostitution from prosecution. It is time to harness fully the FBI’s anti-child prostitution forces to bring justice to victims in all states. No child should be punished for being forced into slavery.


Dear Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller III,

Regarding Operation Cross Country VII, your agency’s recent campaign against child prostitution, I want to draw your attention to the arrests FBI agents made not only of criminals but of child victims of sex trafficking. The legal incongruence that exempts these children from prosecution under federal law while denying them protection under state law must end. Imposing steep fines or imprisoning victims already traumatized from prolonged physical, emotional, and sexual abuse imparts them with a serious distrust of the legal system that is supposed to defend them, a distrust that pimps readily exploit and that often pulls children back into sex trafficking even after their initial liberation.

As you continue your serious crackdown of this horrific practice, I urge you to employ your power to break this vicious cycle by initiating safe harbor laws, which would exempt victims of child prostitution from prosecution nationwide and ensure severe punishment for exploiters and sellers of children. The fact that only nine states offer such protection to these vulnerable persons must change immediately. Rather than condemn our children, we must enact their protection. With your leadership, we can show our children that they will not be punished for the crimes committed against them and allow them the recovery and healing they desperately need.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: LisaB via

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