TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would ensure that 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 has been signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.
“It is time that we stop treating the child victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking as criminals and instead offer them protective and rehabilitative services,” Senator Gill (D-Essex) said. “By making available these much needed tools and services, such as counseling and crisis intervention, the state can provide these children with the support they vitally need to improve their lives.”
The law (S-2599/A-3700) creates 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” will automatically be assigned a juvenile-family crisis unit which will 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 foster care or a 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.
“This bill will ensure that child victims of prostitution receive the necessary support structure needed to turn their lives around,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “By entering the ‘juvenile-family crisis’ diversion program, rather than the traditional criminal system, these children will be provided with programs for rescue and rehabilitation. This will give them the ability to move forward without the stigma of a prostitution charge on their records and in essence offering these victims of prostitution and sexual trafficking a meaningful future.”
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 passed both houses last week with a vote of 38-0 in the Senate and 69-1 in the Assembly.