Friday, November 14, 2014

Sex for Shelter

Photo Courtesy of Fair Girls 
The following blog is part of the DCAYA Youth Homelessness Awareness Month blog series

People often place homelessness and sex trafficking into two different buckets of vulnerability. In reality, these issues are often one in the same, as homeless children are sexually exploited at an alarmingly high rate. When they do not have a safe place to sleep or trusting adults to turn to, young people are forced to find a way to survive. Many times, the only currency they have to offer are their own bodies. Sometimes adults force or coerce a young person into the sex trade – sometimes their situations do – either way, this form of sexual exploitation is mentally and physically damaging to a minor’s well-being. To add insult to injury, in DC, these minors are arrested and prosecuted for engaging in unlawful sexual behavior; going from one system of control established by a pimp, to another system of control brought on by a police officer.

On November 18, DC Council will vote on a bill to change this practice. The 'Safe Harbor' bill will ensure minors get care, not punishment, when trying to survive on the streets. Below is an excerpt from our one-pager with a FAQs section that addresses common misperceptions about minors and the sex trade.

It is fitting that this bill is being voted on during Youth Homelessness Awareness Month. It is time we stop arresting and prosecuting vulnerable children who need basic necessitates: food, shelter, and a caring adult.

“When I was a kid being sex trafficked, I was threatened with arrest, not refered to services. DC law has to change. Kids shouldn’t be arrested for being sex trafficked or survival sex.”

- Kiana
 College Student, Survivor Advocate at FAIR Girls DC 

“Our Safe Harbor law has been a tremendous tool as we combat this horrific crime. With the help of service providers, we focus on the rescue and recovery of young victims caught up in the sex trade.”
 - Anita Alvarez
   State’s Attorney, Cook County, IL

“As a Law Enforcement Officer, it is our sworn duty to    protect the public, and that includes our children who are the most vulnerable.  Safe Harbor laws acknowledge that children, who are not adults, do not have the maturity to give consent to be trafficked.  Safe Harbor laws help us put the real perpetrators in jail.”
- Retired Officer Dan Goldsmith, California State Investigator


Q: What is child sex trafficking and survival sex?

A: The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines a sex trafficking victim as any child under 18 who is engaging in commercial sex acts.  Survival sex occurs when a child engages in sexual acts in exchange for food, shelter, or other basic needs, whether or not they have a pimp. Under the TVPA, minors engaging in survival sex should be treated as trafficking victims.

Q: Isn’t arrest & prosecution a good way for victims to get services?

A: No, instead victims need to be able to voluntarily access services through police referrals — police training on how to do this is included in the bill. A jail cell or a courtroom are not the most effective ways to present services to victims of child sex trafficking. Victims need to have the time and space to commit to accepting services in order for the services to be effective.  As Andrea Powell, Executive Director of Fair Girls says, “we’ve never had any victim tell us no to services … if they are asked correctly.”

Q: But don’t we need to arrest these kids and threaten them with prosecution so they give information about their pimps?

A: No, arresting victims of child sex trafficking will only lead them to distrust, be hostile toward, and withhold information from authorities. When a victim has the opportunity to voluntarily choose services, the young person is more cooperative in a police investigation.


Photo Courtesy of Fair Girls 

Before the vote on Tuesday, November 19th 2014, reach out to DC Councilmembers through their social media channels. View sample tweets and councilmember twitter handles for guidance as we work together to pass this significant and groundbreaking legislation to protect victims of child sex trafficking. 

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