- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An international group seeking to stop trafficking of children for sex gave failing grades to half the states, including Maryland and Virginia, along with the District, for failing to pass laws that provide protection and justice to the victims of domestic sex trafficking.

The failing grades are outlined in a study to be released Thursday by Shared Hope International (SHI), a Vancouver, Wash., group whose mission is to rescue and restore women and children in crisis. The study is based on an analysis of existing state laws considered essential to combating child sex trafficking.

“Each state’s laws show omissions in protective provisions for child victims, and lack strong laws to prosecute the men who rent the bodies of other men’s children,” said Linda Smith, a former Republican congresswoman from Washington state who founded SHI and now serves as its president.

Virginia ranked 47th in the report largely because it is one of four states without a stand-alone human trafficking law and 1 of 10 without a sex trafficking law, according to Samantha Vardaman, SHI’s senior director.

“Without those laws, Virginia is failing to define the crime,” she said.

Ms. Vardaman said that while Virginia prosecutors can charge child sex traffickers under the state’s abduction law, such cases require a showing of force or intimidation. She said Virginia also needs to toughen its laws on prosecuting the customers of child sex trafficking.

She said both Maryland and the District have good laws but still need to improve. Maryland ranked 26th on the list and the District ranked 29th. She praised Maryland authorities for being aggressive in prosecuting child sex trafficking cases but said the state needs to toughen its asset forfeiture laws so traffickers do not “walk away with all the money they have earned by selling children.”

Ms. Vardaman said it was “not acceptable” that, in some cases, juveniles in Baltimore were held in detention for prostitution when they should “be treated like victims and not as prostitutes.”

She also said that the District, which recently upgraded its laws on sex trafficking, needs to make it a crime to use the Internet to purchase or sell sex acts with a minor. The District is one of five jurisdictions without such a law.

The report cards are part of the Protected Innocence Initiative, a partnership of SHI and the American Center for Law and Justice.

Sex trafficking involves forcing another person to engage in a commercial sex act. It is estimated that at least 100,000 U.S. children are exploited through prostitution, according to the report.