Homeless Youth Often Traffic for Food and Housing
In a move praised by advocates, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnel announced last week that his office would no longer arrest children and youth who are involved in the sex trade.
The new policy is likely to improve conditions for homeless youth, who are frequently arrested for prostitution-related offences after engaging in “survival sex,” or exchanging sex to meet basic survival needs such as to obtain money to buy food or access housing.
The announcement was applauded by several advocacy groups, which argue that arresting trafficked minors puts blame on the victim and makes it difficult for them to get access to school and work opportunities.
Yasmin Vafa is the co-founder and director of law and policy at Rights4Girls, a group that has been working with the LA County Sheriff’s office and other government officials in Los Angeles to change the way victims of sex trafficking are treated.
“We have both local and state laws that ban prostitution. The problem is, we’re having these laws applied to children who in many cases aren’t even old enough to consent to sex in the first place. So we have this contradiction.”
That contradiction is at the heart of a series of new laws over the past few years that have attempted to protect trafficked minors.
Ending the arrest of youth who engage in survival sex is included among the recommendations by the Urban Institute’s 2015 report “Locked In – Interactions with the Criminal Justice and Child Welfare Systems for LGBTQ Youth, YMSM, and YWSW Who Engage in Survival Sex.”
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