February 13, 2019 by Karen Countryman-Roswurm and Kalynn Cheyney
Joint Statement by the Center for Combating Human Trafficking and Shared Hope International on Sentencing by Kansas Judge Michael Gibbens
Under Federal and Kansas state
law, persons who purchase sex from minors commit child sex trafficking;
in fact, Kansas law specifically criminalizes such conduct as
“Aggravated Human Trafficking.” Therefore, by definition, minors who are
purchased for commercial sex are victims of sex trafficking. Yet, in 25 states,
including Kansas, an alarming legal paradox exists that oftentimes
prevents child sex trafficking victims from being identified and treated
as victims of the heinous crime.
A February 3, 2019 sentencing by Kansas Judge Michael Gibbens
has once again reminded us of the detrimental status of our nation’s
non-criminalization laws. In reducing the sentence of a 67-year-old
buyer, and referencing the 13 and 14-year-old victims, Judge Gibbens
“So, she’s uncomfortable for
something that she voluntarily went to, voluntarily took her top off
for, and was paid for? . . . . I do find that the victims in this case
in particular were more an aggressor . . . [t]hey were certainly selling
things monetarily that it’s against the law for even an adult to sell. .
. . Normally, I would think that the harm that would have been done by
this kind of conduct would very, very substantial. I’m not convinced
that that is so in this case.”
This case illuminates a culture
that allows half of the country’s laws to regard minors engaged in
commercial sex as offenders of prostitution, despite their status as
victims of sex trafficking. Shared Hope International and the Center for Combating Human Trafficking at Wichita State University
adamantly and unequivocally assert that survivors of child sex
trafficking are never the aggressors or blameworthy for their own
victimization. Together, we challenge the laws and culture that support
penalizing, rather than protecting, youth who have experienced and
survived commercial sexual exploitation.
We share the collective outrage
for the reduction in the buyer’s sentence while daring the conversation
to go further; we must amend our laws and shift our beliefs to ensure
that no child is deemed a “prostitute” and prevented from receiving
imperative protections and specialized services. We believe that when
laws, practices, and beliefs are transformed in tandem, true
perpetrators will be held accountable and survivors will be
appropriately identified and protected; justice will be served.
Be part of a movement that seeks
genuine change to both the laws and practices that address exploited
youth; together, we can ensure that youth survivors of sex trafficking
are protected, not punished:
- Education: The Center for Combating Human Trafficking offers training and technical assistance and also has a significant amount of free resources available.
- Action: Sign the Kansas petition to address the actions of Judge Gibbens. Also, sign Shared Hope International’s petition to Stop the Injustice and end the criminalization of child sex trafficking victims.
down, pay attention, think critically, and seek solutions that move
beyond technical, short-term responses and address the more complex root
causes of trafficking.
states across the country, including Kansas, continue to develop their
anti-trafficking and child sexual exploitation laws this legislative
session, support legislation that offers true “Safe Harbor” protections
for minors, ensuring youth survivors of sex trafficking are protected
from criminalization and have access to critical forms of
post-conviction or post-adjudication relief, including vacatur and
state laws, including Kansas, ensure that there is increased training
for law enforcement officers and commercial truck drivers who might
assist in identifying individuals who are trafficked. However, without
adequate and accessible resources, increased identification can lead to
increased criminalization of the very victims we seek to assist. Thus,
improved legislation should consider training for those who are charged
with determining outcomes and trajectories for youth survivors,
especially stakeholders within the justice system, including
prosecutors, probation officers, and public defenders.
elected officials accountable in applying the law as it was intended.
This requires all of us to invest through time, talent, and treasure in
our own local communities.