by Amanda Kloer
The prospects for healthcare reform may be chillier than DC weather, but Democrats in the House and Senate are turning their attention to another warmer but still significant national issue: the increasing number of runaway and throwaway youth who are being forced into prostitution. In response to the growing concerns that desperate, runaway teens will be forced into prostitution in a sluggish economy, Congress is pushing several bills to improve how runaway kids are tracked by the police, fund crucial social services, and prevent teens from being caught in sex trafficking. Here’s the gist of what the new legislation is trying to accomplish:Shelter: Lack of shelter is one of the biggest vulnerabilities of runaway and homeless youth. Pimps will often use an offer of shelter as an entree to a relationship with a child or a straight up trade for sex. In the past couple years, at least 10 states have made legislative efforts to increase the number of shelters, extend shelter options, and change state reporting requirements so that youth shelters have enough time to win trust and provide services before they need to report the runaways to the police. Much of the new federal legislation would make similar increases in the availability and flexibility of shelter options.
Police Reporting: Right now, police are supposed to enter all missing persons into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database within two hours of receiving the case. In reality, that reporting doesn’t always get done, making it almost impossible for law enforcement to search for missing kids across districts. This hole is a big problem in finding child prostitution victims and their pimps, since pimps will often transport girls from state to state. The new bill would strengthen reporting requirements, as well as facilitate communication between the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway SwitchboardFunding Pilot Programs: Another bill, introduced in December, would fund pilot programs aimed at providing teens in prostitution drug treatment, counseling, and job skills training. Even when child trafficking victims are separated from their pimps, some return to prostitution. In many cases, this return is a direct result of the power and control the pimp exercises over his victims. But sometimes, it’s because the teen lacks the resources and skills to support herself in another way. Programs like these can help children leave prostitution for good.
Charging Teens with Prostitution: The American Bar Association and other legal entities have begun advocating for Congress to pass a law that prevents children from being charged with prostitution when they are too young to consent to sexual activity. Makes sense, huh? If you can’t consent to sex, you can’t consent to sex for pay. But as of yet, that law has not made it into any proposed bills.For the sake of runaway and homeless youth, I hope that these bills have an easier time than some of the other ones which have been proposed this year. Otherwise, we could be leaving thousands of children in need out in the cold.
Photo credit: sea legs snapshots