ECPAT has been at the forefront of the fight for legislation that will protect children who are commercially sexually exploited. The federal government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. The law states that a person under 18 who is induced to perform a commercial sex act is a victim of a severe form of trafficking (22 U.S.C. 7102), not a perpetrator of prostitution. We continue to seek improvements in federal laws and policies, drawing on our past success and our vast experience in knowing what works for child protection.
While there have been huge victories in federal laws, many state courts and police departments continue to treat underage victims as criminals. This may occur due to a lack of training, too few resources for victims, and misperceptions about the experience of children who are exploited in the sex trade. By turning child victims over to the juvenile justice system states perpetrate an endless cycle of arrest, detention, and abuse. In order to put an end to this cycle, ECPAT-USA fights for passage of “Safe Harbor” laws. These laws can:
- Correct the conflicts between federal and state law by exempting children from prosecution for prostitution.
- Require training for law enforcement and other first responders on how to identify and assist victims.
- Increase the penalties for traffickers and purchasers of sex.
- Prompt the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team to develop a statewide system of care.
ECPAT-USA provides guidance, policy recommendations, and advocacy support to organizations in states across the country to improve the legal and system response to exploitation. ECPAT-USA is proud to support the efforts of local partners who are leading the fight to protect the children in their state. We have been a part of successful efforts in 5 states that passed Safe Harbor laws. But there is much more to do. Find out about what your state has done to pass and implement a Safe Harbor law.