TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nia H. Gill and Loretta Weinberg that would ensure children under the age of 18 arrested for and engaging in acts associated with prostitution are treated as victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation rather than as criminals was approved unanimously today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“New Jersey’s children who are victims of human sex trafficking and forced into prostitution deserve to be treated as victims, rather than criminals,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex). “By providing community and agency services to these victims, including counseling and crisis intervention, the state can provide its children with the help they deserve and hopefully a more stable and meaningful future.”
The bill (S-2599) would create a comprehensive system for directing exploited children into support services by amending the state’s definition of “juvenile-family crisis” to include prostitution or any offense a juvenile alleges is related to them being a victim of human trafficking. A child arrested and charged with prostitution who is found to be in “juvenile-family crisis” would automatically be assigned a juvenile-family crisis unit which would ensure that the child receives appropriate community and agency services, and that a family services plan is followed. These services may also include alternate living arrangements, such as a foster or group home, a host shelter, a county shelter care facility or other suitable family setting. Under no circumstances can the alternative living arrangements be placement in a secure detention facility for the treatment of juveniles accused of crimes.
“By adding child prostitution into the ‘juvenile-family crisis’ diversion program, we can make sure that these children are not lost in the system and that instead they are receiving the support and tools they need to turn their lives around,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “Providing programs for rescue and rehabilitation to these victims of sexual trafficking rather than treating them as criminals and leaving them with the stigma of a prostitution charge on their records is the moral and responsible thing to do and hopefully will give these children a sense of normalcy as they move forward.”
According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the majority of child prostitutes are runaways who come from homes where they have been abused, or from families that have abandoned them. The Senators note that including prostitution under the definition of “juvenile-family crisis” would allow the juvenile-family crisis unit to evaluate the home and family lives of these child prostitutes and determine the best community and agency resources to fit their individual needs whether it is reentry into the family or alternate living arrangements.
The DOJ also reports that there are nearly 293,000 American youth who are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sex exploitation.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.