Did you know that today in North Carolina, children who are victims of human trafficking can be prosecuted? It’s true. In our state, the commercial sexual exploitation of children is legally viewed in many cases as prostitution, a crime committed by the minor in question rather than against him or her.
The US Department of Justice estimates that the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12-14 years. And what’s more, GEMS reports that 70-90% of commercially sexually exploited children have a history of child sexual abuse. Current practice is to treat these already vulnerable and traumatized children as criminals — despite the fact that they are not choosing prostitution themselves but are being forced or coerced into it (i.e. trafficked) by their pimps/boyfriends. But, as of this week, change is on the horizon!
A bill was filed in the State House today that would finally eliminate criminal prosecution of prostituted minors. HB 825 provides that a “minor shall not be prosecuted for the offense of prostitution and if detained for that offense shall be subject to temporary protective custody as provided by the state juvenile laws.”
If it passes, this legislation would not only eliminate criminal penalties for sexually exploited minors but would also make provisions for those minors to be taken into protective custody and connected with support services. HB 825 would work in tandem with HB 855, HB 221, and other similar bills to increase criminal penalties for traffickers and enhance services for trafficking victims. Given North Carolina’s unenviable distinction as being among the top eight states for human trafficking in the US, this kind of supportive legislation is desperately needed.
Please contact your state representatives today to communicate your support for HB 825 and other anti-trafficking legislation. Being a victim of sexual violence shouldn’t be a criminal offense.
Joey Honeycutt is our Crisis Response Coordinator. She works with our volunteer Companions to provide support services to survivors of sexual violence in our community.