Thursday, July 03, 2008

A practice that would make the Puritans and the Taliban smile...

Sometimes it takes a story like this to make one realize how abjectly horrible some parts of the American criminal justice system are. This announcement pertains to a piece of legislation in New York that would allow children under 15 who are caught working as prostitutes to not be arrested and instead referred to social services.


This compelled me to do a little research, and it’s pretty appalling. The idea that someone under 18 would be arrested for prostitution is ludicrous. Insane. The fact that New York is just now getting around to treating SOME of these children as victims, not offenders, is detestable. Under the proposed law, a 16 year old could still be arrested for prostitution. Sorry Albany, but this well-intentioned little bill sucks. How about offering social services to all victims of statutory rape, not just the ones young enough to get Nancy Grace riled up?

How big of a problem is this? Well, according to FBI statistics reported by the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 74% of juveniles working as prostitutes that are picked up are booked for arrest. By over 10%, males are more likely to be arrested than females, and there are more underage male prostitutes than female. In only 4% of juvenile male prostitution arrests were other charges filed—meaning that the only thing the kid was arrested for was prostitution.

From the same document:
“Police are more likely to categorize juveniles involved in prostitution as offenders than crime victims, but those categorized as victims are more likely to be female and young”.

Here’s the kicker: most state laws, including the one proposed in New York, are seemingly in conflict with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which gives “victim status” to any commercial sex worker that was forced, coerced, or a minor. Why are the state laws so behind the curve on this? This bill is like painting half of your house: it looks okay on the top half, but the fact that you haven't bothered to paint the bottom half draws attention to how stupid it looks. Isn’t it painfully obvious that minors engaged in prostitution need help, not arrests?