Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stop sexploitation of children

By all means get tougher on this type of crime. You don't need my permission.

And change the law.

Tougher laws pushed to clamp down on child sex trafficking
By Michelle Mondo:

Texas must strengthen its laws and local officials must focus on prosecuting those who pay for sex with minors to curb child sex trafficking, according to a report released by Shared Hope International, a nonprofit group that works to rescue sexually exploited children and women.

The organization Tuesday officially released findings of an assessment conducted this year to study the region's success in identifying victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, or DMST, and providing access to services for those victims.

DMST is the commercial exploitation of U.S. citizens or foreign-born legal residents. The San Antonio and Bexar County region was one of 10 areas nationwide that SHI recently examined. Among its conclusions, SHI found while there is “a fervent attitude of restorative justice” to help such victims, there is also a lack of awareness about the issue, both in the community and local media.

Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, founder and president of SHI, said she was impressed with the focus on the problem throughout the region but added that the state's trafficking law needs to be changed. Currently, the law requires proof of force for cases involving trafficked victims, including minors, according to Smith.

The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 states a person younger than 18 can't consent to sex with an adult, regardless of whether force is used. Smith said the federal act protects all children involved in sex with adults and has a lower threshold of proof for prosecutors.

“The law is a bit broken,” Smith said. “We're asking that the (state) law be changed and the word ‘force' be removed.”

District Attorney Susan Reed said she agreed with Smith and added the community needs to work with law enforcement and prosecutors.

Along with a change in laws, SHI also calls for increased access to secure housing facilities for victims, such as that found at ChildSafe, a local advocacy center.

Victims of trafficking shouldn't be treated like offenders, she said. Prostituted minors often are arrested for crimes associated with prostitution, including drug crimes, which reinforces the idea that law enforcement is the enemy, she said.

At the center, the victim has access to case workers, representatives from Child Protective Services and the district attorney's office, investigators with the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff's Office, and a medical team that includes three forensic interviewers.
Vickie Ernst, the chief operating officer of ChildSafe, said the goal is to “restore dignity, trust and hope to sexually abused children.”

Smith said educating the public is an important first step.

“As a community you have to say, ‘This isn't a child prostitute, it's a prostituted child,'” she said. “It's rape of a child. It's kidnapping. And it's wrong.”