Effective strategies for rescuing children from sex trafficking: it's not incarceration

A news story out of Texas popped up in my Google alerts today.  In it discussed issues surrounding the difficulty in finding housing for children rescued from trafficking, and the frustration expresses by some law enforcement for not being able to arrest children under 14 on solicitation or prostitution charges (as they feel  that is sometimes the only option for intervention).  But what is wrong with this picture if the only way to intervene in an at-risk child's life is to subject them to arrest, detention and the court system?  How effective is that to reaching kids that have already been through hardships and horrors, and has already probably been let down by "the system" in the first place? 

Kids are rarely plucked out of loving, nurturing environments and forced into the sex trade.  They are the vulnerable, at-risk youth that fall through the cracks of the inadequate child welfare system on our country.  If we are to make inroads on protecting our children from becoming vulnerable to sexual exploitation, it must start there.  If we can reduce the number of children that need assistance in the first place, by providing them the protection they deserve, we will not have to worry as much about scraping up housing and rehabilitation services for them later.

In the meantime, let's not subject them to further trauma by making them feel like criminals, even if the intention might be to separate them from traffickers or an unhealthy home environment.  Again, it is a sad state of affairs that we do not have a better developed child welfare system to address the needs of these children as they become identified, and more efforts need to be made to provide immediate care in a safe environment, not further exposure to criminals or a system they may not trust in the first place.  The move made by states like Texas, New York, and Illinois to enact Safe Harbor laws that recognize trafficked children as the victims they are, not criminals, is certainly a step in the right direction on the road to recovery.

While rescue and restore programs are a necessary part of addressing the issue of child trafficking, when are we going to start addressing one of the root causes for these children becoming victims in the first place?  We must improve the child welfare system in our country, including (but not limited to) expansion and better oversight of our foster care program, and safe houses for runaway youth.  Without addressing these issues, we will continue to just be spinning our wheels regarding child trafficking.     

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