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The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls’ Story

Last week, the New York Times highlighted a newly-released Georgetown University Law Center report on the “sexual abuse to prison pipeline.” The report focuses on girls who become involved with the juvenile justice system after being charged with prostitution, although they are victims of sex trafficking. The researchers estimate that approximately 31% of girls in the American juvenile justice system have suffered sexual abuse (compared to 7% of boys), and 45% have experienced five or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (compared to 24% of boys). Just as in the broader criminal justice population, girls of color are disproportionately represented in prostitution-related arrests and other statistics on sexual violence and trauma among juveniles.

The research on the implications of experiencing sexual abuse and ACEs in childhood is troubling, with short- and long-term consequences that range from social, emotional, and cognitive impairment to disease, and even early death.

In Nebraska, the report is timely as the Unicameral and other decision-makers examine the issue of sex trafficking in the state. In the most recent legislative session, a bill introduced by Senator Scheer, LB 294, sought to heighten penalties for traffickers and consumers of trafficking. The bill became law in May, and around the same time, Senator Morfeld introduced LR 186, an interim study to examine services available to victims of human trafficking in Nebraska.  Senator Campbell introduced LR 248, another study to investigate implementation of the federal Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. In June, the Attorney General’s office announced that it would hire a human trafficking coordinator to lead a statewide strategic plan.

The work being done to shed some light on human trafficking in Nebraska is essential as we seek to ensure that victims receive the help they need to break free from modern-day slavery. Unfortunately, important services that seek to protect and support victims are sparse across the state, and not available in many communities.

At Voices for Children, we believe children who are victims and survivors of the sex trade should be treated as such. Charging juveniles as delinquents only serves to exacerbate past traumas, and as the report suggests, leads victims further into the justice system. We look forward to working with stakeholders in the coming months to build upon past efforts to ensure that victims of child sex trafficking are not further victimized and penalized.

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