United States: More States Pass Safe Harbor Laws to Protect Sex Trafficking Victims

Over the past ten years, an increasing number of U.S. states have enacted "Safe Harbor" laws that protect sex trafficking victims from arrest and prosecution for prostitution related offenses. While most states limit the scope of their laws to minor or child victims, some states have extended safe harbor protections to adults. According to the Protected Innocence Challenge 2015 National Legislative Progress Report, since August 2014, forty-two states and the District of Columbia have adopted 236 new laws that protect sex trafficking victims, enhance criminal penalties for sex buyers, or criminalize different aspects of sex trafficking. 

Observers say this indicates an important shift away from punishing victims and towards reducing demand for sex trafficked women and girls by targeting buyers and sex traffickers. However, some advocates are concerned that this shift in focus is happening too slowly. Many states continue to arrest victims and fail to provide adequate services to trafficked women and girls, such as shelter, counseling and medical care.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state that has not enacted a sex trafficking law. To access the full 2015 National Legislative Progress Report, please visit Shared Hope International.

Compiled from: Beitsch, Emily, Protecting victims: More states separate prostitution, sex trafficking, Grand Forks Herald (October 31, 2015); Protected Innocence Challenge: 2015 National Legislative Progress Report, Shared Hope International (2015).