No one can deny that the most recent North Carolina Legislative Session was, to say the least, controversial. But amid all the controversy came the passage of SB 683, otherwise known as the Safe Harbor Act. We first brought you news of this legislation back in April. At the time, it was in the form of HB 825, a bill seeking to eliminate criminal prosecution of prostituted minors. In their final vote on the bill, the NC House removed that particular provision, but it was thankfully restored by the Conference Committee before being unanimously passed on July 25 and signed into law by the governor on July 29, 2013.
Thanks to the Safe Harbor Act, North Carolina is now a safer and more supportive state for prostituted minors and all survivors of trafficking. In addition to prostituted minors no longer facing criminal prosecution, all victims of trafficking can now have their prostitution offenses erased from their criminal record when it can be proven that they were forced into prostitution or were under 18 at the time of the offense. Safe Harbor also allows for harsher penalties for those who solicit or engage in sex with prostituted persons. Those individuals may no longer use mistaken age or consent of a minor as a defense in court, and engaging in sexual acts with a prostitute has been elevated to a felony crime. Furthermore, pimping is also now a federal offense, and those convicted of trafficking are now required to compensate their victims in accordance with the Fair Wages Act.
Now is a great time to celebrate the new Safe Harbor Act, as January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. We have periodically highlighted human and sex trafficking, asking our community members to support legislation that offers protections to survivors. While North Carolina still has a long way to go in providing sufficient and appropriate support and services for survivors of sex trafficking, the passage of the Safe Harbor Act brings us several important steps closer to our ultimate vision of supporting survivors, punishing perpetrators, and eliminating sexual violence and all forms of oppression.
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.