Sex Trafficking

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State Comparisons
States Implementing Laws that Provide Immunity from Prostitution Charges for Minor Victims

State Comparisons


Since the development of state protective response laws is an emerging area fraught with implementation challenges, many state statutory responses have been built on earlier models, with each state identifying an approach that works for that state and adapting it to its unique policy and resource landscape. Within the range of state responses, four general categories of protective system responses have emerged10:

1. Immunity without referral – provides immunity from prostitution-related charges to direct juvenile sex trafficking victims away from a punitive response but does not statutorily direct them into an alternative system or specialized response for access to services.

2. Immunity with referral – provides immunity from prostitution-related charges and directs juvenile sex trafficking victims to an alternative system or specialized response for access to services.

3. Law enforcement referral to a protective system response – does not make minors immune from prostitution charges but directs or allows law enforcement to refer minors suspected of prostitution offenses to child welfare or other system-based services instead of arrest.

4. Diversion process – does not make minors immune from prostitution charges but allows or requires juvenile sex trafficking victims to be directed into a diversion program through which victims can access specialized services and avoid a delinquency adjudication.

States that do not fit into these statutory categories may still be implementing components of a JuST Response. Based on existing research and knowledge gained from the experiences of states that have been implementing protective response laws, three basic elements have emerged as critical to a complete juvenile sex trafficking (“JuST”) response: statutory protective provisions, multidisciplinary interagency state system protocols, and access to an array of funded service options. Georgia and Maryland for example each have protocols for connecting youth to services or avoiding a punitive response. No doubt there are other non-punitive service responses beyond these statutory categories that have not yet been explored or developed.

To explore the methods and challenges of deploying protective responses that integrate the critical elements of statutes, systems and services, the JuST Response Mapping Report merges Shared Hope’s research and policy analysis to provide a national overview of existing state juvenile sex trafficking responses and an in-depth analysis of responses in example states that represent each of the four statutory frameworks most commonly found under existing state laws. While this report goes beyond those frameworks and explores the implementation of system responses and access to services, there are two reasons for organizing state JuST responses according to their statutory frameworks:

(1) The state’s statutory framework is a prerequisite to statewide change: By mandating a fundamental shift in how the state views juvenile sex trafficking victims—from criminals to victims of exploitation—the statutory framework can survive shifts in power that informal policies and executive-led initiatives are less likely to survive. The stability provided by a framework of law makes it less difficult to commit resources and energy to the hard work of implementing a protective rather than a punitive response.

(2) Since four approaches to enacting a statutory framework implementing this paradigm shift have arisen over the past several years, comparing implementation of these responses allows for a more structured analysis, i.e., comparing one state’s immunity response with another state’s immunity response provides a more accurate reflection of how similar laws can play out very differently depending on each state’s policy and resource landscape. Comparing immunity with diversion, for example, illustrates how the different laws play out, but comparing immunity with immunity illustrates how the different approaches to implementation play out.

It should be noted that the division by statutory category is meant to help guide the reader through a comparison of approaches and is not meant to minimize the concurrent importance of system protocols and available services. In addition, a state’s political climate, resources and advocate personalities invariably influences the implementation of its protective response for juvenile sex trafficked victim. Comparing the implementation of immunity laws in Tennessee and Minnesota provides an excellent narrative of these differences. For instance, Minnesota has one of the best funded state governments in the country11 while Tennessee is more resource limited. While their statutes are similar in terms of providing immunity to minors, implementation of their laws has been very different.12

Two approaches to protecting victims that are not included here are an affirmative defense for sex trafficking victims or definitional changes intended to direct victims to an alternative system process, such as the person or child in need of services (PINS or CHINS). These approaches do not amount to a protective response in most cases because these laws—while important in helping to lay a foundation for such —lack a procedure to affirmatively direct minors out of the punitive system response and into services and/or place the burden on the victim to seek protection and services.

This report is a first step in ongoing research and is not inclusive of all promising state protective responses since over half of the states in the country have enacted some form of protective response law. For example, the responses of states such as Georgia13 that have developed strong agency or community protocols in lieu of supportive statutes are not covered herein.


10 See “State Law Survey: Protective System Responses to Child Sex Trafficking Victims.” Sharedhope.org. Shared Hope International, 2014. http://sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Shared-Hope-State-law-survey_Protective-System-Responses_through-8.1.141.pdf. Accessed on February 24, 2015. This chart reflects See State Law Survey Chart – Protective Responses, reflecting legislation enacted as of 8/1/14. While most state responses fall into one of these categories, some state responses blend more than one approach, for example Delaware provides a diversion process and also requires law enforcement to report commercially sexually exploited youth to child welfare in order to connect youth with services.

11 Kiernan, John S.. “ States Most and Least Dependent on the Federal Government.”,WalletHub. Evolution Finance, Inc., 2014., http://wallethub. com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/. Accessed February 24, 2015.

12 These approaches are further explored in the following chapters,

13 The Georgia Care Connection, recently established by the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, identifies commercially sexually exploited children and links them to services without subjecting them to arrest. The Georgia Care Connection office serves as the single point of entry and care coordination entity for these commercially sexually exploited girls, ages 11-17. Learn more at www.georgiacareconnection.com/

States Implementing Laws that Provide Immunity from Prostitution Charges for Minor Victims


By ensuring that all juvenile sex trafficking victims are directed away from a punitive court process that can re-traumatize victims and reinforce mistrust of the system, immunity from delinquency charges for prostitution and status offenses related to juvenile sex trafficking is a critical component of a protective response. However, enacting an immunity statute does not come without challenges. A common concern raised by advocates in states that have passed immunity laws is that youth may still be charged with status offenses that mask the intent to arrest victims for prostitution. This is especially prevalent in areas where law enforcement feel there is a lack of safe placement alternatives or a particularly high risk of re-exploitation. States that enact immunity laws in the absence of a statutory procedure to ensure youth receive a specialized service response may face a situation where child serving agencies are unable to adequately respond to a trafficking situation, leaving exploited youth with limited service options. First line responders such as law enforcement and social workers are thus faced with the heart wrenching decision to return a victim to a situation where there is risk of re-exploitation.

Even in states that have passed immunity laws that mandate law enforcement referral of juvenile sex trafficking victims to child serving agencies, factors such as lack of training or implementable protocols within child serving agencies or a lack of appropriately equipped service providers may still leave victims vulnerable to re-traumatization and exploitation. At the JuST Response Congressional Briefing, panelists from two states, Minnesota and Tennessee, discussed their strategies for enacting immunity statutes as the core of their state’s protective response. Despite the similarity in their laws, which both lack a statutory procedure that specifically mandates a child welfare or alternative system response, the challenges and successes encountered in implementing their laws vary greatly. In Tennessee, immunity laws were enacted prior to identifying funding procedures and protocols to connect youth to services. This progressive law codified thestatus of juvenile sex trafficking as victims of trafficking and created a sense of urgency that has motivated state agencies to come to the table to create a state-wide protocol for identifying and responding to juvenile sex trafficking victims. In Minnesota, amendments to the state delinquency laws established a three-year deadline for the legislature to fund service protocols for responding to juvenile sex trafficking victims before the law establishing immunity for minors became effective. As a result, Minnesota’s No Wrong Door14 campaign was able to secure government funding to establish a comprehensive, multidisciplinary plan to ensure communities across the state have the knowledge to identify and the skills and resources to serve juvenile sex trafficking victims.

Another approach to immunity laws is represented by Illinois and Kentucky, both of which combined immunity with a mandatory referral to child welfare for services. While Illinois enacted its law much earlier, enabling Kentucky to build upon Illinois’ model, similar challenges to implementation have arisen in both states. Such challenges, though similar, provide important learning as solutions are shaped by the policy and resource landscape peculiar to each state.


14 Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs. No Wrong Door: A Comprehensive Approach to Safe Harbor for Minnesota’s Sexually Exploited Youth. 2013. dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/forms-documents/Documents/!2012%20Safe%20Harbor%20 Report%20%28FINAL%29.pdf Accessed on February 24, 2015.

Oregon - State law establishes a protective response for DMST victims through existing systems1 - no

Type of protective system response: Immunity without referral to alternative system / Immunity with referral to alternative system No immunity, law enforcement referral to protective system / No immunity, diversion n/a
Source: sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/JuST-Response-Mapping-Report-Final-web.pdf



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