At least 100,000 children are used in prostitution every year in the United States and the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years old.
Washington’s leaders have taken some important steps to address the problem of commercial sexual exploitation of children in our state, but too many children are still falling victim. As evidenced by the recent recovery of 24 child victims of sex trafficking and arrest of nine pimps during a three-day law enforcement initiative in Washington state – our children are at great risk.
There is more we can do to protect Washington's children. The recent release of Shared Hope's Report Card exposed some critical legislative gaps in Washington law -- gaps that leave children vulnerable to traffickers and fail to provide the cornerstone of strong law to victim advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement so they can ensure protection for the victims and punishment for the criminals who exploit them.
The Report Card outlines several legislative gaps, the top four changes needed are:
- Amend the state human trafficking law to eliminate the requirement of force, fraud or coercion in cases of child sex trafficking. In order to align with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act it is necessary to legally recognize that any child, under the age of 18 involved in a commercial sex act as a victim.
- Amend the patronizing a prostitute law to distinguish the solicitation of a minor with reference to commercial sexual abuse of a minor and/or human trafficking law as the applicable crime and penalty. Currently, the law on solicitation/patronizing a prostitute does not differentiate adults from a minor and is a misdemeanor – regardless of age.
- The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) should amend their definition of caregiver to include a “person in control and possession of a sexually exploited child” to bring a child victim of trafficking within the protection of DSHS.
- Amend laws to increase investigative tools for law enforcement by allowing for audio-taping conversations with persons involved in sex trafficking without need for a court order.
Our state could be a "zero tolerance state" when it comes to child sex trafficking -- but only if our leaders make these critical legislative changes a priority. Write Washington leaders right now and urge them to do all they can to prevent child sex trafficking and help child victims escape and heal.