Government leaders and police often fail to acknowledge their own complicity in further stigmatizing girls engaged in survival sex. The FBI’s multi-city raid involved officers enforcing standard laws related to prostitution or solicitation, meaning that many of these so-called “rescues” involved little more than “rounding up the usual suspects.”
Periodic law enforcement raids change none of these realities. Nor do they change the fact that crucial local, state, and federal dollars that used to fund services for girls on the run from abusive families have been devastated by draconian budget cuts. Federal sequestration alone is predicted to bring a 56 percent cumulative reduction in juvenile justice funds that once provided states with vital, community-based services for troubled families and alternative care.
“They (girls) usually get into this because they are running away from something else,” Oakland, California, police Lt. Kevin Wiley declared. “It goes way beyond law enforcement to solve this epidemic.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its re-authorizations define commercially-sold girls as victims, but most state laws allow for girls under 18 to be charged as prostitutes. Advocacy groups have tried to pass Safe Harbor laws, which mandate that any girl under 18 who has been sexually exploited be treated as a victim, not a criminal and placed in safe treatment facilities that provide medical and mental health services. Only 25% of states have passed such legislation. Even then, “victims” in these states often find their “rescue” home is a shelter or detention facility.
With no system for helping teens put their lives on track, putting handcuffed girls in patrol cars is far from a rescue. It’s more like a roundtrip ticket to a visit with a broken detention system, followed by a return to the street.