These Kids Are Victims

When a thirty-year-old has sex with a fourteen-year-old, in every state in the nation, it’s a form of rape. Not only will the thirty-year-old face felony charges but also if convicted, will likely be subject to sex offender registration. When a thirty-year-old gives that fourteen-year-old money for sex, in most states, we charge the fourteen-year-old with prostitution! If the thirty-year-old is charged in state court, historically, it has been a misdemeanor for soliciting a prostitute.

Like most states, in Arizona, where I practiced as a public defender for years, victims are fiercely guarded under the law. We have a Victim’s Bill of Rights as a part of our state’s constitution to make sure the system doesn’t revictimize those who have already been mistreated by other people’s criminal behavior. However, ironically, in Arizona, we treat juveniles involved in trading sex for money as prostitutes.

Put another way, we have laws that protect minors because we do not believe they are mentally capable of consenting. We believe that they can be manipulated and taken advantage of by adults. We believe that we as society are better off protecting our youth than judging them based on an adult standard…except when it comes to child prostitution. How does this make sense?

If you have read anything about sex trafficking, one thing you learn is that the majority of juveniles who are trafficked were abused as children. Often the abuse is a catalyst for them running away. They leave a bad environment only to become prey to someone who uses them or convinces them to exchange sex for money. These kids are likely not seeing most of the money that is exchanged for their rape, but the money is what changes it in the eyes of the law. They are labeled as “delinquents” (the term for defendants in juvenile court). They are locked up in a detention center with other juvenile offenders, which is structured like a jail with bars and guards. They must stand before the judge as the criminal in jail garb to account for what, in any other context, would be statutory rape. Some, who are committed to helping these kids, will say that this is necessary to get them away from controlling and abusive pimps, but what about the self-fulfillment philosophy that we as society subject them to? I can’t imagine how these children must feel when the system says they are the criminals. It is disgusting to think that a pimp could use this to further manipulate children telling them that no one will help them. Furthermore, these lewd acts aren’t happening in seedy back alleys. They’re taking place at events like the Super Bowl. And unless we pretend that prostitution surrounding the Super Bowl only involves adults, then somebody is paying big money to rape our youth while we watch the big game with great commercials from afar.

The good news is that the laws are changing. The federal government passed the Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 where it criminalizes sex with a minor in exchange for money and considers minors as victims under the law. Anyone under eighteen who accepts money for sex is a sex trafficking victim. This law squares with the legal philosophy behind statutory rape. The problem is that most criminal matters are handled by the states and only a handful of states have changed the way they treat juvenile victims involved in sex trafficking. Most are still considered prostitutes.

To me, this is huge! Let’s not look at sex trafficking and see it as messy and complicated but instead as a problem that we can work together to solve. These kids have been victimized. The juvenile system offers a lot more grace than the adult criminal system, but that is even more reason why these kids need to be treated like victims not criminals from the beginning. We at Model Behaviors have partnered with New Friends New Life and are committed to tackling this tough issue. Stay tuned for more. Let us know your thoughts and if you would like to get involved.

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