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Print this pageUNITED STATES: Governor signs bill to protect child prostitutes




am New York

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News release

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[29 September 2008] - Children in New York, US, who are forced to work in the sex trade won't be treated as criminals under a new law Governor David Paterson signed on Friday.

The measure will extend additional social services to exploited youth and require the legal system to treat them as victims, rather than criminal sex workers.

"You don't deserve to be treated like a criminal," said Shaquana, an 18-year-old who was arrested for prostitution at age 14. "Hopefully it will take that stereotype out of people's heads about girls who are being sexually exploited."

The Brooklyn resident has been out of the sex trade for two years and has lobbied to get the Safe Harbour act passed in New York. She asked that her last name be withheld because she's a victim of sexual violence, but said she believed this bill would give girls like her a chance to avoid suffering.

New York -  and many other states - have sought to prosecute sexually exploited youth. State laws generally contradict the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which defines sex trafficking as a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion - or involving a minor. Child advocates want state laws to reflect federal law.

The Safe Harbour bill would allow minors to avoid criminal proceedings on their first prostitution arrest and instead be considered a "person in need of supervision." That's a legal designation that triggers intervention by professionals providing health and other services.

In any future arrests, the youths could defend themselves as victims of sex trafficking in court to avoid prosecution. The judge would have greater discretion in those cases.

The law doesn't go into effect until April 2010, to allow to prepare for the cases.

Rachel Lloyd is the founder and executive director of GEMS, a nonprofit that helps girls avoid or escape sexual exploitation.

"This will make a huge difference for the children and youth who otherwise would have gone to detention, not received special services, not be treated as victims, and (would otherwise) be stigmatised again and go back to the streets."

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am New York

Last updated 29/09/2008 06:04:22

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