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4/5/2017 Rep. Ackerman legislation would create a safe harbor for sexually exploited children
STATE HOUSE — To aid children who are the victims of sex trafficking, Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) has introduced the Rhode Island Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act.

The legislation (2017-H 5857) would make sex trafficking victims eligible for benefits from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, establish “safe harbor” provisions for sexually exploited children and designate them as abused and neglected children.

“Regardless of the form trafficking takes, it is the exploitation of innocent victims,” said Representative Ackerman. “Victims of trafficking are often misidentified and treated as criminals rather than victims, especially commercially sexually exploited children, and do not receive adequate services. This legislation would make it clear that these children are victims of abuse, and they would be treated like any other abuse victim. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.”

To ensure that minors who are victims of sex trafficking are treated as victims and not criminals, the legislation would guarantee immunity from prosecution for prostitution and redirect the victim away from the criminal juvenile justice system and instead refer the child to supportive services and programs.

In addition to the immunity from prosecution, law enforcement agencies would be required to conduct a screening and risk assessment to determine if the child should be considered a victim of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation. The responding agencies would have to use a uniform set of protocols for responding to the incidents.

In addition, the Department of Children, Youth and Families would be required to work with the attorney general and law enforcement agencies to create the assessment tool and set of protocols.

The bill would also provide that children who are victims of sexual exploitation would be eligible to apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, a provision that has garnered the support of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.

“We shouldn’t think of Rhode Island as a bubble — that it doesn’t happen here,” said Representative Ackerman. “The reality of sex trafficking in Rhode Island is all too real, and we have a moral obligation to do what we can to help these children who have already endured so much.”

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in six endangered runaways reported to the organization in 2016 were likely sex trafficking victims; and 86 percent of these likely sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing.

Day One, a Rhode Island agency that is specifically organized to deal with issues of sexual assault, reports, “While exact data for Rhode Island overall is hard to come by, we do track the cases that come into Day One. During the first six months of our CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) program, we have been referred over 30 cases for CSEC victims and expect more to come as the program develops. Rhode Island is not exempt from this crime.”

The legislation, which is cosponsored by Representatives Mary Duffy Messier (D-Dist. 62, Pawtucket), Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) and Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903