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Lawmakers Punt on Protecting Sex-Trafficking Victims

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PHOTO: Two laws on child sex trafficking have cleared the state Legislature, but millions of young people remain at risk in an industry that generates $9.8 billion annually. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the average age of victims recruited into prostitution is 12 years old. Photo credit: James Revgot/Flickr Commons.
PHOTO: Two laws on child sex trafficking have cleared the state Legislature, but millions of young people remain at risk in an industry that generates $9.8 billion annually. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the average age of victims recruited into prostitution is 12 years old. Photo credit: James Revgot/Flickr Commons.
April 23, 2015

DENVER - A law that would update how Colorado handles child sex trafficking passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but victims won't see any changes until 2016, if at all. House Bill 1019 would have brought Colorado in line with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law that defines minors arrested for prostitution as victims.

Kimberly Love, volunteer lobbyist with the League of Women Voters of Colorado, says the state still treats children abducted into the sex industry as criminals.

"Children cannot be prostitutes," says Love. "There is no such thing as child prostitutes. Children cannot consent to prostitution and therefore they are victims."

The only action required when the law goes into effect is for the state's Human Trafficking Council to assess and make recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2016. The original bill would have given minors who have been trafficked into prostitution the kind of support given to abused children, such as housing, treatment and also immunity from prosecution and victim compensation.

Love agrees, the state needs to ensure it's making good decisions about protecting children, but is concerned that the issue remains unsettled. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the average age of victims recruited into prostitution is 12 years old. Love says child sex trafficking is a $9.8 billion a year industry, and market forces won't wait until the Legislature acts.

"For every buyer there has to be a product to sell and pimps and traffickers are continuously trying to fill that product," says Love. "That means our children, everybody's children, are at risk."

Another bill on child trafficking signed into law, Senate Bill 30, stops short of giving victims immunity and treatment. The law provides a potential defense if minors charged with prostitution can prove they've been trafficked, and allows victims the chance to get past convictions removed from their record.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO