This afternoon, Voices for Children Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Policy Coordinator Juliet Summers testified in neutral on LB294, which would adopt the Human Trafficking Victims Civil Remedy Act.
Some of the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are those children subjected to participation in the sex trade. Voices for Children in Nebraska supports most portions of LB 294, because it would institute broad protections in both civil and criminal fora for child victims of trafficking. However, we would also like to recommend amendment of one clause: the question of criminal immunity and exclusive juvenile court jurisdiction over children suspected of prostitution. While immunity from criminal prosecution is an extremely important protection, we fear that the current language of the statute will lead to prosecution of these victims of sex crimes as delinquents in the juvenile courts. We recommend amending the language of §5 to clarify that juvenile court jurisdiction may be granted only under Nebraska Revised Statute §43-247(3)(a) or (3)(b), non-criminal charges which would emphasize therapeutic response and keep these children out of jail-like facilities.
Ensuring child victims get access to necessary wraparound services is crucial, and we recognize that in many jurisdictions, juvenile court involvement may currently be the only way to achieve that goal. However, labelling survivors of the sex trade as delinquents and placing them in secure detention, even in the name of safety, is not the right way to protect them. Many, if not most, victims of sex trafficking have been abused, neglected, or otherwise exposed to trauma prior to being trafficked. While trafficked, they have been subjected to serial rape and abuse. Treating them as delinquent offenders ignores these traumas. These young people, mostly girls, have experienced horror after horror. We would not charge any other victim of child molestation with delinquency. Requiring a child to enter a plea as a juvenile delinquent, or face trial where police or other witnesses may come to testify against her, compounds trauma with trauma. Locking her in a detention center for any length of time raises the spectre of her powerlessness all over again. It can break down any fragile trust she might have in the system’s ability to help her. Voices for Children would be eager to assist in any way as Nebraska explores best practices for responding to victims of the child sex trade. Meanwhile, until our state has a spectrum of services available to help this population without court involvement, juvenile court intervention thankfully does not require a delinquency charge. Our strong recommendation would be to add clarifying language on this point.