NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — A nonprofit that grades states on how effectively they combat child sex trafficking says most U.S. states have improved over the last decade.
Shared Hope International, a nonprofit based in Washington state and Washington, D.C., found critical gaps in victim protections and criminal laws when states were last graded in 2011.
But the years have seen a positive turn in the tide and as of 2019, the nonprofit says all states are specifically criminalizing child sex trafficking and criminalizing buying sex from a child.
Tennessee went from a "C" in 2011 to an "A" in 2019, with a score of 98. The Volunteer State received high marks in each category: Criminal Provisions; Identification of and Response to Victims; Continuum of Care; Access to Justice for Trafficking Survivors; Access to Justice for Trafficking Survivors; and Prevention and Training.
"Tennessee’s human trafficking offense includes any child who is bought for sex regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion was used and regardless of whether a buyer exploited the youth without a trafficker’s involvement. Although state law prohibits minors from being prosecuted for prostitution, the lack of a specialized service response leaves survivors disconnected from resources that are necessary to address trauma and promote healing." - Shared Hope International
Despite the gains in the fight against child sex trafficking, Shared Hope International says victims still need more access to justice and services. The group is working to change some laws they say narrows the definition of child sex trafficking to include all commercially sexually exploited children.
ALSO SEE: 19 states allow children to be charged with prostitution
“The past decade has led to new research and opportunities to listen to survivors, bringing ever increasing clarity to laws and policies that must be in place to fully respond to child and youth sex trafficking,” Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope, said. “At the core of this shift is stopping the victim blaming that prevents children from being recognized as victims and accessing needed services. There is clearly much work to be done. Nineteen states still allow child victims to be charged with prostitution; in nineteen others the buyer can assert a defense that he didn’t know how old the child was; in nineteen more, buyers are not considered offenders under the child sex trafficking law. While we recognize changing laws to ensure greater protection for victims can be a heavy lift for states and providing services presents resource challenges, we’ve seen some states take the lead on this and we’re confident others will learn from their example.”
Help for Victims:
There are resources available for victims of human trafficking on their path to becoming survivors.
Text “TN” to 741741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor to get help for many topics, including suicidal thoughts and depression, eating disorders and human trafficking.
Victims can also call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 855-558-6484 or text "BeFree" to 233722.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 888-373-7888.
Learn more at ItHasToStop.com