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Post by: Kelsey Yates

My name is Kelsey Yates and I am a second-year law student at Regent University. As a student staff member for the Center for Global Justice I have had the opportunity to see how practical work and research can help organizations in their fight against human trafficking.

This semester I had the opportunity to work on a project for Shared Hope International. Shared Hope International is a non-profit organization that focuses on eradicating human trafficking through prevention, restoration, and justice. This semester our project was focused on two groups of juveniles who are especially vulnerable to human trafficking: minors who have been charged with legal violations and youth that have “aged out” of foster care.  

Eradicating human trafficking is something I am passionate about and is ultimately what brought me to law school. The project for Shared Hope International has heightened my awareness of at-risk youth and how they can be greatly impacted by human trafficking. As a result of my heightened awareness, I have conducted research for my own insight and have learned different ways that we can protect our at-risk youth.

One of the ways that especially stuck out to me is the decriminalization of juvenile sex trafficking. Prosecution of minors for prostitution often forces a victim to be punished for their own sexual abuse. This is because many states still charge minors with prostitution even when a child is simply a victim of sex trafficking and not a perpetrator. Decriminalization of juvenile prostitution is one step in the direction of protecting children and providing justice.

Even though non-criminalization is one way to protect our youth it does come with its own challenges. One challenge is that decriminalization needs to be paired with adequate support for victims because it is likely to fail as a means of protecting juvenile victims on its own. Many who oppose decriminalization argue that the laws alone will not protect victims and that juvenile criminalization is the only way to protect juvenile victims. The problem with maintaining juvenile criminalization is that detention centers and jails do not provide adequate support or services either. With this lack of support, juvenile victims often fall back into exploitation after their time in a detention center has expired, leaving them with a criminal record and nothing more. It is clear that juvenile victims need specialized support and services paired with the decriminalization of juvenile prostitution.

Although there are challenges that accompany decriminalization laws, I believe that this is one step in the right direction of protecting our youth. Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff Member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.