But says improvements are needed.
Washington DC (KM) When it comes to sex trafficking laws, Maryland gets good marks. That’s according to an analysis of state sex trafficking laws conducted by Shared Hope International, which works around the world to bring justice to women and children who get caught up in the sex trafficking industry. “Maryland just got a ‘B,’ of 82%. But I’m looking at the 18% that’s missing. and good 10 points of that is in your victim protection, their own right within Maryland,” says Linda Smith, President of Shared Hope International.
She says Maryland Law does not prohibit minors caught up in the sex trafficking industry from being charged with prostitution offenses. “If you want to fight this issue, you’re going to have to fight it long term with these children that, at one point, ended up with these criminal records. And we’re going to have stop any other child going down a path of criminalization,” she says.
One of the strengths of Maryland’s sex trafficking laws, according to Shared Hope, is that it’s a crime to sexually exploit children under 18, and force, fraud and coercion are not necessary. The organization also says the state’s laws do not criminalize the purchase of sex acts with minors, but subject the violators to the offense of sexual abuse of a minor.
But Shared Hope says Maryland has established a statewide system of providing specialized services for sexually exploited youth.
Smith points out that sex traffickers don’t often convince children, girls usually, to become prostitutes by meeting them out on the streets. She says a majority of the recruiting is done over the internet. “The way that individuals are trafficked is much likely to woo on line, or pretend to be someone of the same age, a teenager, and build a relationship. From there, they will try to get them to a place where they can consummate or put them in a trafficking situation,” she says.
If you’re a parent and you want to protect your teenage child from these on line traffickers, Smith says go to sharedhope.org, and download a free internet safety guide.
She says children of any background can be recruited by traffickers. “It could be anybody daughter’s. It could be any kid in any community. They’re not out there trying to sell sex, or find someone to sell them. They’re literally deceived and trapped by the development of their brain. Their brain doesn’t develop for another ten years in a child by the time many of them they’re victimized and put into prostitution,” says Smith.
For some kids who are being lured into prostitution, Smith says many of these children are sporting tattoos. “They will actually brand or tattoo the girl with the pimp’s name or money or some type of an indicator for others that she is owned by him. He or she, it’s usually she, is managed by a pimp,” she says.
And for some kids, says Smith, they may have been doing well in school before they were caught up in the sex trafficking industry. “She stopped going to her youth church group. She started being secretive. She had a little silver bracelet from him. And they start showing signs of things that they didn’t have. Her language will change slightly. She will probably alienate herself from her friends,” she says.
By Kevin McManus