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Evaluation of Safe Harbor Laws and Their Impact on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)
Original Solicitation

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2018, $499,977)

This program furthers the Department's mission by enhancing what is understood about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and advancing evidence-based interventions and services. The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is a serious threat to the safety and well-being of many young vulnerable youths in the United States. Currently, there are 12 states that have enacted safe harbor laws which recognize that juveniles involved in commercial sexual exploitation are victims and attempt to divert them away from the juvenile justice system to agencies that may be better equipped to address their specific needs. However, little is presently known about the effectiveness of safe harbor laws or their impact on the CSEC problem. Development Services Group, Inc. (DSG) proposes a mixed-method approach blending quantitative and qualitative analysis to assess both the process and impact of implementing safe harbor laws on providing protection and services to victims of CSEC. This research will emphasize investigating: decriminalization of CSEC victimization and decreasing the number of arrests among prostituted minors, increases in referrals of CSEC victims to child welfare services, and increases in the quantity of service delivery to CSEC victims. Phase 1, the legal review (months 1-6), will examine the various components of safe harbor laws in the states that have implemented them. Phase 2, the outcome evaluation (months 6-30), will use a quasi-experimental longitudinal design to compare states that have implemented safe harbor laws for 5 years prior and 3 years after enactment to those states that have not (as yet) implemented them. The intervention sample in Phase 2 will include all eight states that adopted safe harbor laws during 2008-2012 and that report data to both the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). The researchers will analyze: (1) UCR data on arrests of prostituted minors, and (2) NCANDS child-specific data on investigated reports of sexually exploited children referred to child welfare services and the quantity of services received after assessment. The Phase 2 comparison group will be composed of 34 states that have not (as of 2012) enacted safe harbor laws, but still report to UCR and NCANDS. Phase 3, the process evaluation (months 13-28), will be conducted in two states deemed to be successfully implementing safe harbor laws in terms of three criteria: (1) implementation of the most comprehensive laws; (2) passage of enabling legislation that funds components of the law; and (3) availability of state-level data systems that can be queried to provide service-level data. In Phase 3 states, the researchers will access individual-level data to examine decriminalization, referral to child welfare services, and actual service delivery. In Phase 3, the researchers will also conduct interviews with key leaders at the state, city and county levels to further assess whether the safe harbor laws are being implemented as intended, and what barriers to successful implementation were encountered. The proposal describes an expansive, multipronged dissemination strategy including development and distribution of policy and research briefs, academic journal articles, a regular newsletter summarizing study progress and findings to update all interested practitioners, a comprehensive final report suitable for a nontechnical audience, conference presentations, and Webinars. CA/NCF
Date Created: September 16, 2014