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Sex Trafficking of Minors: The Impact of Legislative Reform and Judicial Decision Making in Metropolitan and Non-Metropolitan Communities

Award Information

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

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $570,150)

There has been a growing push to pass state safe harbor laws to align governmental and community responses to the reframing of the issue of sex trafficking of minors (STM) that was ushered in with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Scant empirical research has been conducted to evaluate the impact of legislative responses to sex trafficking of minors. Moreover, the judiciary has been largely ignored in most of the research on STM. The proposed mixed-methods project has four aims: (1) Evaluate changes in key agency personnel’s awareness, knowledge, and capacity for responding to STM, including trends in charges of human trafficking offenses involving victims who are minors, from pre-implementation to post-implementation of a safe harbor law in one jurisdictional condition; (2) Examine the impact of immunity, protective, and rehabilitative provisions of a safe harbor law; (3) Provide guidance on how juvenile and family judges’ knowledge and attitudes influence their responses to trafficking victims as witnesses and as defendants in crimes related to their trafficking victimization within metropolitan and non-metropolitan communities; and (4) Identify and disseminate policy, education, and practice strategies that support informed judicial decision-making in family and juvenile court cases involving youth exploited in commercial sex. A formal partnership with a survivor who serve as a consultant will inform all aspects of the study to maximize credibility, utility, and relevance of findings. Qualitative and quantitative data will be collected from multiple sources: (1) telephone-administered interviews with 375 professionals who work in agencies that serve-at risk youth and/or crime victims/offenders, including secondary data analysis of interview data collected pre-implementation of the safe harbor law; (2) statewide secondary aggregate data on criminal charges of human trafficking and prostitution of juveniles from 2007-2018; and (3) face-to-face and telephone interviews with 50 family and juvenile court judges from metropolitan and non-metropolitan communities across the project state and the U.S. This study will provide recommendations for legislative reform and policy implementation based on evaluation of effectiveness of the immunity, protection, and rehabilitative elements a state safe harbor law. Further, the identification of and dissemination of policy, education, and practice strategies that support informed judicial decision-making in cases of sex trafficking of minors will make a substantial contribution to the court system. In addition to reports and scholarly journal articles, dissemination of major findings will target diverse practitioner, policy maker, and lay audiences with multiple research translational products.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 23, 2015