Criminal Justice

30 Laws In 30 Days: Fighting Child Exploitation

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By: Amanda Creech

June 4, 2015 — TheStatehousefile.com

Editor’s Note: TheStatehouseFile.com is presenting a month-long series of stories on new Indiana laws that take effect on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS – A new law could mean young prostitutes are treated more like victims than criminals in an effort to save some from exploitation.

House Bill 1216 – passed in April – provides a defense to the crime of prostitution if the victim was under 18 and is found to be a victim of human trafficking at the time the crime was committed.

The bill also provides new resources for families dealing with cases of missing or trafficked children.

Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington said the goal of this law is not to criminalize victims.

“The purpose of the law is we want to help give these children a good life, away from a life of being abused and mistreated and help them as a victim as opposed to getting arrested,” Harrington said said. “We’re going to treat [them] like a victim and provide [them] with a safe space to be.”

Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, authored the legislation after Harrington brought the issues to his attention. Truitt said the bill dovetailed with a larger effort by the legislature to improve public safety. And he said he was happy to see this legislation pass both chambers with bipartisan support.

Harrington, who has been the Tippecanoe prosecutor for nine years, said he became more interested in the issue after “a few years ago several children were being trafficked, either into prostitution or involuntary labor. He said the current law did not allow the prosecutor’s office to classify those who were arrested as a victim.

The new law will help those children who are being trafficked, in part by bringing the victims to the attention of the Indiana Department of Child Services, he said.

“Given the number of children that run away from home, they are very easy targets for sex-traffickers to prey on,” he said. “This law allows them to be treated as a victim, it allows for DCS to become involved and take legal custody over the child and it allows them to get off the streets.”

Harrington also said those involved in trafficking give children fake IDs, which complicates the case when they are picked up by police. The National Runaway Safeline says the average age of their callers is 16. Harrington said most of the children involved in trafficking are about 16 or 17.

The legislation will police to provide pamphlets from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Runaway Safeline to families who report missing children.

The group reported that in April, it have received more than 4.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation through its CyberTipline. Those reports are then sent to law enforcement.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also provides services to families who have missing children.

“A missing child can be an extremely difficult time for any family,” Truitt said. “So it is important that we ensure that they have information and resources available to help them through this challenging situation.”

Amanda Creech is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

[Photo courtesy of the Gallery Over There website]

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