Obama Calls For Enhanced Protection For Victims of Human Trafficking, But Discrepancies in State Laws Pose a Challenge

BY CHRISTINA FLATAU — President Barack Obama, in a recent address to the Clinton Global Initiative, outlined new steps to combat human trafficking, but didn’t address one of the most notable problems in states’ current response to what the President rightly referred to as “modern slavery.” In his speech, President Obama stated that we will “treat victims as victims, not as criminals.” However, child victims of sex trafficking are often arrested and treated as criminals despite the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which defines minors who are induced to prostitute themselves as sex trafficking victims and requires them to be kept in facilities appropriate to their status as crime victims, not crime perpetrators. Today there are only eleven states that have safe harbor laws that ensure that child victims of sex trafficking are immune from prosecution and are directed to child welfare services instead of juvenile detention facilities.

Fortunately, Florida is among the minority of states with a progressive safe harbor law. In 2008, Florida’s legislature removed the requirement for a child to establish that force, fraud, or coercion had been used to induce him or her to participate in prostitution, pornography, or stripping. This change brought Florida law into conformity with its federal counterpart, but left open the possibility that child sex workers could still be subject to criminal prosecution.

This June, Florida fixed that problem. At the Kristi House in Miami, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Florida Safe Harbor Act, which directs law enforcement to deliver sexually trafficked minors to the Department of Children and Families rather than arresting them.

To get more states on board with Florida’s approach, the ABA’s Task Force on Human Trafficking is working to compile data on state trafficking legislation and to develop and promote a uniform state human trafficking law. The ABA believes that the proposed uniform human trafficking law “would address discrepancies in existing state laws, encourage states which have not yet criminalized human trafficking to do so, and promote collaboration among law enforcement officers, prosecutors, NGOs, lawyers, and other stakeholders in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking.”

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