Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Safe Harbor for Prostituted Children

There are no child prostitutes.

There are only prostituted children.

Children who are pressed, prodded and pummeled into selling sex, should be treated like victims — which is what they are — not like criminals. That’s the paradigm shift that a bill awaiting action on Gov. David Paterson’s desk would mandate. Paterson should sign it.

The “Safe Harbor” legislation would change the current practice of routinely arresting, prosecuting and jailing children — those under the age of 18 — for prostitution. Authorities would be required instead to provide them with state supervision and services such as shelter, crisis intervention and help toward a better life.

That would cost some money, which may be the rub. The state would need to provide safe houses and also some longer-term housing options to provide a way out of the sex trade for teens whose family situations make going home impossible. That should be done as cost-effectively as possibile — for instance by adapting current facilities to this new use — but it has to be done.

Children can’t legally consent to sex. That’s recognized when they’re trafficked across national borders and forced into sexual slavery. And it’s recognized when they’re abused by pedophiles. It should be no different when the child is American, the predator is a pimp and the pedophile is a “John.”

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