Providing A Safe Harbor For Sexually Exploited Children

March 9, 2010

3/22/2010 | Update: A version of this Safe Harbor bill has been approved by the Select Committee on Children and is pending further action by the Judiciary before continuing to advance through the legislative process.

What responsible adult does not recoil in horror and disgust when hearing or reading about the sexual abuse or exploitation of children and teenagers? Some experts estimate that about 100,000 children, many as young as 11, are exploited through prostitution every year in our country. No one wants to believe that it could happen in Connecticut. But, logically, if it happens elsewhere, it happens here.

Connecticut can and should take a very important step this year toward protecting sexually exploited children and teenagers by passing proposed legislation that would require our courts to assume that anyone under the age of 17 prosecuted for prostitution was coerced or enticed. My proposal, Senate Bill 153, An Act Providing A Safe Harbor For Exploited Children, was the subject of a recent public hearing before the General Assembly’s Select Committee on Children. The bill is awaiting further action by the committee before advancing through the legislative process.

While there are some who do not believe that Connecticut needs such a law on the books, there are many others who expressed support for passing legislation to protect young victims of sexual exploitation from possible legal harm. Some, such as the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and Connecticut Voices for Children, would like to see the General Assembly pass a bill that goes much further than what is called for by Senate Bill 153. These two organizations would like to see the General Assembly pass legislation stating that no child can be prosecuted for prostitution in Connecticut; more directly linking child sex trafficking victims to services and protections; and extending legal protections to all children under the age of 18, rather than 17 as is proposed under my bill.

In its testimony, the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance noted that Connecticut law enforcement officials do tend to divert sexually exploited children from the court system and refer them instead to social services. That is good news. Furthermore, the state Division of Criminal Justice urges anyone who is aware of innocent victims of trafficking being criminally prosecuted to inform them so that “we may review the specific case and take any necessary remedial action.” I certainly hope that anyone who has knowledge of such situations will take Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice up on its offer. Meanwhile, I will continue my efforts to convince the General Assembly to pass my proposed legislation.

I strongly believe that Connecticut should have a law on the books that recognizes that children and young teens who engage in prostitution are victims of sexual exploitation. Passing Senate Bill 153 would be a good first step toward publicly recognizing the need to legally protect these victims. However, I believe that Connecticut ultimately needs to do more.

While Senate Bill 153, An Act Providing Safe Harbor For Exploited Children, offers protection to minors from criminal prosecution for actions that they had no choice but to commit, I originally suggested legislation that would have gone further by requiring the courts to direct the child into social service programs that could offer assistance in safe and secure housing, crisis intervention, counseling, and other community based services. My original proposal sought to ensure that there was a safety net in place so that these troubled children did not fall through the cracks of society. Ultimately, it is not enough to just let the minors go free, to return them to a situation that probably gave rise to their crimes and troubles in the first place. We need to do more. We need to give them a chance to rebuild their lives. Passing Senate Bill 153 this year is a good first step.

Please share your thoughts on this proposed legislation, and other issues that are important to our state. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1423, or via e-mail to [email protected].

Senator Rob Kane represents the 32nd Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Thomaston, Roxbury, Watertown and Woodbury.