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Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth & “Safe Harbor” Legislation

Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth[i] & “Safe Harbor” Legislation

A pdf of this documented can be found here: Fact Sheet on Youth In the Sex Trade 3_16

What is “Safe Harbor” Legislation?

 

“Safe Harbor” laws are developed by states to rectify the inconsistences between state laws on prostitution and statutory rape laws and human trafficking laws. Sen. Greenleaf has introduced Safe Harbor legislation in the form of SB 851[ii]. It effectively decriminalizes sex work for youth in the trade -however in its current form SB 851 reinforces and formalizes the relationship between the child welfare system, youth engaged in the sex trade, and the criminal justice system. By mandating youth to receive DHS services, this legislation will serve to re-cycle sexually exploited youth through the very systems which have already failed to protect them and meet their needs.

 

  • There is a lack of research around many elements of “Safe Harbor” laws, including the effects of connecting youth to DHS services.[iii] Thus, it has not been proven that mandating sexually exploited youth be connected to DHS is effective or beneficial in any way for these youth.
  • “Safe Harbor” laws blur the line between social services and the criminal justice system via the arguably unethical tactic of using arrests to forcibly engage youth in services.
  • While “Safe Harbor” laws provide immense benefit in the form of prosecutorial immunity from prostitution-related charges for sexually exploited youth, these laws do not provide immunity for offenses not directly related to prostitution, despite the well-documented facts that sexually exploited youth are more often arrested on charges unrelated to prostitution and are frequently harassed and targeted by law enforcement for a myriad of reasons.[iv]

 

The Child Welfare & Criminal Justice Systems

 

Child welfare and criminal justice systems too often fail in their purported mission of providing vulnerable youth with support, safety, and critical services, such as stable housing, education, food security, health care, and protection. For many youth, this failure contributes to entry into survival sex work and makes youth more vulnerable to future exploitation. It is thus illogical, unethical, and counterproductive to force youth to receive DHS services in connection with a prostitution-related arrest. Furthermore, youths’ experience of sexual exploitation within the criminal justice system and by law enforcement officers indicate that legislation making law enforcement personnel responsible for sexually exploited youths’ protection and safety will prove ineffective in serving these youth.

 

  • 85% of youth in the sex trade are estimated to have prior involvement with the child welfare system.[v] This indicates that the child welfare system has already failed to provide many sexually exploited youth with economic stability and a safe living environment.
  • Youth who have involvement with the child welfare system disproportionately experience the following (as compared to the general population): mental health problems as children and adults; physical health problems as adults; poor educational and employment outcomes; homelessness; engagement in sex work; and contact with the criminal justice system.[vi]
  • Many youth, particularly LGBTQ youth and youth of color, experience violence, exploitation, and harassment from the child welfare and criminal justice systems.[vii]
  • Sexually exploited youth commonly report suffering sexual exploitation at the hands of law enforcement officers, including being forced to perform sex acts on officers and officers ignoring or accusing of lying youth who report sexual exploitation.[viii]
  • Sexually exploited boys and young men are more likely than sexually exploited girls and young women to face criminal charges when arrested on prostitution-related charges.[ix]
  • The criminal justice system often portrays sexually exploited young women and girls as victims[x] rather than recognizing their resilience in their given environment, which disempowers these youth, reinforces their vulnerability, and makes them more susceptible to further exploitation.

 

 

Recommendations to Respond to the Sexual Exploitation of Youth in PA:

 

Safe Harbor Legislation:

  • Pass “Safe Harbor” legislation which provides prosecutorial immunity from prostitution-related crimes for sexually exploited youth but does not mandate child welfare intervention
  • Expand prosecutorial immunity in “Safe Harbor” legislation to include other crimes with which youth in the sex trade are routinely charged
  • Include a non-discrimination clause targeted at service providers that will help ensure LGBTQ youth not only have access to critical services, but that those services are safe, welcoming, and tailored to meet the needs of all youth.
  • Employ youth with experience in the sex trade to help develop and present law-enforcement training
  • Restrict use of funding to meet the material needs of youth, as determined by empirical research, data collection, and youths’ reports of what their experiences and needs are
  • Clarify and specify what “reasonable detention” means when youth arrested on prostitution-related charges are in police custody

 

Beyond SB851:

  • Address the institutionalized violence in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, namely the disproportionate representation of families of color and low-income families; as well as the lack of appropriate services for queer and transgender youth.
  • Fund voluntary, trauma-informed group therapy interventions for sexually exploited youth
  • Provide funding for programs and homeless shelters specifically for LGBTQ youth
  • Provide funding for programs which work with youth and their families to prevent foster care placement
  • Employ people with experience in the sex trade as youth to develop and implement programming.
  • Fund peer-education programming, developed and led by youth with experience in the sex trade
  • Support peer-led outreach in communities where sex work takes place
  • Involve youth who engage(d) in the sex trade in policy discussions
  • Youth-led trainings for peers and service providers
  • Compensate youth for their role in the above recommendations

 

For more information please contact Project SAFE:

safephila@gmail.com

1-866-509-SAFEx5

Learn more about our take on SB851 here.

Young, trans and queer activists reminding us what really stands in the way of healthcare.

photo courtesy of radfag.com

[i] “Commercially sexually exploited youth” refers to youth who trade sex by choice, circumstance, or coercion (i.e., human or sex trafficking) and is used interchangeably with “youth in the sex trade” by authors of this document.

[ii] More can be found at http://tinyurl.com/z8qfhqn

[iii] Shields, R. T. & Letourneau, E. J. (2015). Commercial sexual exploitation of children and the emergence of Safe Harbor legislation: Implication for policy and practice. Curr Psychiatry Rep 17(11).

[iv] Dank, M. et al. (2015). Surviving the Streets of New York: Experiences of LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Engaged in Survival Sex.

[v] Gragg, F. et al. (2007). New York prevalence study of commercially sexually exploited children. New York: New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

[vi] Wildeman, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2014). Somebody’s Children or Nobody’s Children? How the Sociological Perspective Could Enliven Research on Foster Care. Annual Review of Sociology, 40, 599–618. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-071913-043358

[vii] Young Women’s Empowerment Project. (2011). Girls do what they have to do to survive: Illuminating methods used by girls in the sex trade and street economy to fight back and heal.

Young Women’s Empowerment Project. (2012). Denied help! How youth in the sex trade & street economy are turned away from systems meant to help us & what we are doing to fight back.

[viii] Berlatsky, N. (2016). “Child Sex Workers’ Biggest Threat: The Police.” New Republic.

[ix] Finkelhor, D., & Ormrod, R. (2004). Child pornography: Patterns from NIBRS. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

[x] Ibid

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PA SB 851: A Fact Sheet for Legislators and Advocates

 

The following post has bee developed by: Kelly Sebetka, Project SAFE & SWOP-Philly and can be downloaded here: SB851factsheet 3_16

AdvocacyAlert_Tag300

What is PA SB 851?

  • This bill is similar to “Safe Harbor” legislation that exists in states such as New York, which have been developed to protect sexually exploited children from prostitution-related charges, while providing specialized social services for youth.
  • If enacted, the bill has many assets, such as providing funding for much needed social services for youth who are trading sex in Pennsylvania.
  • SB 851 has been referred to the Appropriations Committee as of November 18, 2015 in the Pennsylvania State Senate.

 

The state of Pennsylvania has the benefit of research done in other states that have ratified similar Safe Harbor Legislation. This evidence should be unitized to revise the SB851 in its current form to better address the needs of youth.

 

Please find the key concerns we have with SB851 with recommendations for revisions.

 

  • 3082. Statewide protocol.
  • The bill calls on the Department of Human Services to “develop a Statewide protocol to efficiently and effectively coordinate the provision of specialized services to sexually exploited children,” as well as make these services known and available to youth.
  • Recommendation: Youth survivors of the sex trade, as well as at-risk youth, should be formally included in the development of this protocol to ensure the perspectives and priorities of those most impacted.

 

  • 3084. Safe house for sexually exploited children.
  • Currently, there are no protections of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ) youth who are disproportionately at risk for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Recommendation: The inclusion of a non-discrimination clause that will help ensure LGBTQ youth not only have access to critical services, but that those services are safe, welcoming, and tailored to meet the needs of all youth.

 

  • 3085. Law enforcement training.
  • In its current form, SB 851 names Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association as solely responsible for training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other appropriate staff on identifying, engaging and providing services to sexually exploited children
  • Recommendation: Law enforcement officers are not trained to provide services to youth, and experienced social services providers should also be included as in the development and provision of these trainings. Additionally, financing should be incorporated for youth survivors of the sex trade should to be included in the development and delivery of these trainings given their unique knowledge of this experience.
  • Recommendation: Youth and/or survivor led-organizations and social service providers should also be included as stakeholders in the training of law enforcement officers. These trainings should include evidence-based practices.

 

  • 3086. Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund
  • In addition to funding victim’s service, this fund can be used for “an anti-demand campaign and to protect sexually exploited children.” End-Demand approaches to human trafficking recognize youth only as a product to fit a simplistic economic analogy, rather than persons with rights, aspirations and unmet needs, as well as add to the stigma and shame associated with survival sex work. This approach does not have any evidence in changing the behavior of consumers.
  • Recommendation: Funding should be prioritized to meet the material needs of youth in the sex trade. In the event of surplus, prevention campaigns targeting adult perpetrators should be driven by research and evidenced-based practices.

 

  • 5902. Prostitution and related offenses.
  • Immunity from prostitution related offenses are available after “reasonable detention” for the purposes of investigation. Police investigations should not violate the rights of youth.
  • Recommendation: “Reasonable detention” must be clarified and specified, given the history of violence by law enforcement against youth in the sex trade, especially LGBTQ youth.

If you would like to take action and educate your elected official – find out who they are here.

Please find the complete text of PA SB 851 at http://tinyurl.com/z8qfhqn or contact Project SAFE for more information at 1-866-509-SAFE or safephila@gmail.com

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Sex Work Research – What are the facts?

At SAFE we are excited that many are discussing the recent study by the Urban Institute about sex workers and managers of sex workers. While we are excited to see so many news outlets talking about sex work, we are weary of any study funded by the National Institute of Justice, who have a vested interest in justifying the criminalization of sex work in all forms. As a service organization we are committed to ending the coercion and economic exploitation of individuals in the sex trade, but believe this can only be achieved by empowering individuals and communities.

Here is some fabulous peer-reviewed scholarship about sex workers. For many of these the work was done by current or former sex workers, or sex worker voices were included not only as tokenized sound bytes but as leading stakeholders in research design and delivery.

Also, check out a review of the article by the Sex Workers Outreach Project here.

http://www.nswp.org/research-sex-work

http://sexworkersproject.org/downloads/20060601-SexWorkersAndFinances.pdf

http://ywepchicago.wordpress.com/media/

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