The U.S. Justice Department estimates that each year 200,000 children are trafficked for sex in the U.S., and it is said to generate upward of $32 billion a year, NPR reports. Teens are being picked up on prostitution charges. It’s a stunning contradiction in the law: Girls who are too young to legally consent to sex are being prosecuted for selling it. Amy Farrell, an expert who studies sex trafficking laws, says some states are trying to fix the problem through safe harbor laws.
Twelve states have passed safe harbor legislation for child victims of sex trafficking. The basic premise is to give law enforcement and prosecutors a way to divert children who have been prostituted from a juvenile delinquent proceeding and instead put them into what’s called a “child in need” proceeding. In some states without safe harbor laws, there are efforts to set up special courts specifically to deal with these cases. “This has basically been a whole series of individual judges seeing these cases coming through their courts and becoming passionate and involved in the issue and being willing to work with prosecutors, the defense bar and service providers to establish these problem-solving courts,” Farrell says.