Brown, Kaleem: Child sex trafficking victims are assaulted again by justice system

June 10, 2016

For most kids, daily activities include attending school or spending time with friends. Not for Alana. Like too many child sex trafficking victims, the only daily guarantee in Alana's life was that she would be raped by her trafficker and buyers who paid to engage in sexual acts with her.

When the police discovered Alana's abuse, she was not immediately taken to a safe place. Instead, Alana was arrested 10 times for "prostitution" between ages 13 and 18. She recounts being pulled from hotel rooms by police, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car with her hands bound behind her back.

Arriving at juvenile hall, she remembers undergoing full-body searches, fingerprinting and dehumanizing comments about being a "prostitute." She spent countless nights on a flimsy mattress in a concrete cell.

Countless children in California are like Alana, manipulated by adults who buy and sell their bodies. Too often they are arrested and sent to juvenile hall. Federal law unequivocally states that any minor who engages in a sexual act in exchange for anything of value, whether money, food, or shelter, is a victim of child sex trafficking. Yet California continues to criminalize these children.

Other states are taking a different approach. They have proclaimed there is "no such thing as a child prostitute," and recognize these children as victims of abuse deserving of supportive services outside of the criminal justice system.