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Sex Trafficking and SARTs

Guest Blog by Sarah Florman | Trafficking Policy Coordinator at SVJI @MNCASA

The issue of sex trafficking has received significant attention in the past few years, and your SART may be discussing how to address sex trafficking within your sexual assault response. It can be exciting to look at your community’s response to sex trafficking, but it can also be new and unfamiliar territory for team members. In this blog series, we’ll go over some of the considerations for beginning this work in your community, including core information about sex trafficking, community awareness, team structure, and key stakeholders.

There are many myths and misconceptions about sex trafficking, just as there are about sexual violence as a whole. It is important that in talking to your team that you work to develop a shared understanding of the issue before moving forward. One of the first things to do is define the terms for what it is we are talking about. Sex trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to recruit, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, patronize, or solicit a person for sexual activity OR any sexual exploitation of a person under the age of 18.  Sexual exploitation is a broader category of sexual violence, and includes the exchange of sexual activity for something of value, or the promise of something of value.  Many forms of sexual exploitation are legal in the U.S. for adults; this includes stripping and pornography.

When it comes to youth under 18, these activities are illegal and considered to be a form of child abuse.  A number of states have adopted Safe Harbor laws to address sexual exploitation of children.  In some states, these laws effectively eliminated “prostitution” as a chargeable offense for victims/survivors under 18.  Other states have created diversion programs, where youth can avoid criminal charges if they accept services.  Different states may have trafficking and exploitation laws that differ somewhat from the federal definitions, so it is important to understand your state’s definitions of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, and to be aware of your state’s Safe Harbor laws or other related legislation.

While trafficking and exploitation are connected, it is important to know that there are differences. For example, some communities might not be familiar with the concept of “survival sex,” which is when people exchange sexual activity for things such as a place to stay. This is a very common scenario and an example of sexual exploitation. However, many communities we talk to often only think about large trafficking rings or someone who has a “pimp.”  It is important to share an understanding of definitions, to address common misconceptions, and to find out what sex trafficking looks like in your community and state.

These conversations might be difficult, as even experts in the field have differing views on the needs and response. For example, some people feel strongly about legalization of adult sex work, others feel that decriminalization is better, and still others what harsher legal penalties. We can’t tell you what is right or wrong on some of these topics, but it is important for your team to come to a shared understanding of some things before you can effectively and efficiently work towards systems change and enhancing the collaborative response to sex trafficking.

Has your team been interested in developing a response to sex trafficking? Do you have a response in place, and/or have areas in which you want to improve your response? Share in the comments below!