Stop the inJuSTice: Protecting Child Victims

Youth survivors of sex trafficking deserve protection not punishment. Sadly, the nation is still struggling to offer non-punitive protective responses to survivors.

Shared Hope International, a non-profit dedicated to ending child sex trafficking in America, released a new report July 31, 2018: Seeking Justice: Legal Approaches to eliminate criminal liability for juvenile sex trafficking victims.

Seeking Justice is a comprehensive resource for understanding the various statutory approaches states have taken to eliminate a minor’s criminal liability for prostitution and other offenses related to their victimization. This report also examines another critical aspect of enacting a non-criminal response—providing a pathway to trauma-informed services.

Below are the highlight stats:

  • 23 states and DC have laws that end the criminalization of child sex trafficking victims for prostitution.
  • 15 states and DC protect exploited minors from criminalization for prostitution without requiring proof of victimization.
  • 13 states extend non-criminalization for minors beyond prostitution offenses.
  • 20 states & DC provide for a service response; 8 states and DC require services to be specialized to the needs of trafficked youth.

However, gaps remain in existing non-criminalization laws that may undermine the goals of avoiding re-traumatization and preventing re-victimization. Gaps identified in the report include lack of access to services, hinging access to services and/or protection from criminalization on proof of victimization, contemplating arrest or detention of exploited youth, and directing youth into a potentially adversarial court process in order to access services.

NFWL is partnering with Shared Hope to get this valuable resource into your hands. You can access the report online here.

This report is part of Shared Hope’s Stop the inJuSTice Campaign, which contains numerous legislator-focused resources to help you address this important issue in your state:

  • Watch the awareness video for an introduction to the issue, including the need to stop criminalizing youth survivors of sex trafficking and, instead, to provide these children with access to services.
  • Take our Policy Training Webinar Series to hear from survivors, service providers, and judges on how to craft a protective response in your state.
  • Read our timeline showing the historical development of state laws that eliminate the criminalization of minors for prostitution offenses.

You can also receive free technical assistance and bill drafting services from the Shared Hope Center for Justice and Advocacy to help you address this issue in your state’s laws. Request a consultation here to get started.

History of the Initiative

Following six years of statutory research under the Protected Innocence Challenge, Shared Hope launched the Stop the inJuSTice Campaign to mobilize state legislative responses on barriers preventing victim protection and offender accountability. In addition to advocating for stronger laws that acknowledge the integral role of demand, Stop the InjuSTice is leading a national movement to enact protective provisions in the 29 states that continue to punish child victims.

Minors engaged in commercial sex are victims, not delinquents or “bad kids.” Yet, over half of U.S. states continue to prosecute these children for the crimes committed against them.  Regardless of whether the child engages in commercial sex out of deception, force or survival, states should be providing a protective and trauma-informed service response outside of the criminal justice system.

Criminalizing minors for prostitution offenses or offenses related to the child’s victimization twice fails these children; we fail minors when we unsuccessfully protect them from exploitation, and we fail these children again when we permit our systems to punish them. Passing legislation that immunizes minors from criminal liability for prostitution offenses and opens doors for trauma-informed services and care is essential for empowering minor victims and preventing re-victimization.

To learn how your state addresses protections for child victims of sex trafficking, check out the resources below and contact Shared Hope to get a customized toolkit with state-specific resources.  You can also request a consultation with our policy staff.  Email Sarah Bendtsen, Shared Hope Policy Counsel at

Shared Hope International is dedicated to bringing an end to sex trafficking through our three-pronged approach – prevent, restore, and bring justice. We provide comprehensive research, expert testimony, coalition support, and advocacy initiatives to strengthen trafficking laws and build better policies to protect victims and prosecute traffickers, buyers, and facilitators.