Using administrative data, this study investigated the impact of a safe harbor law enacted in one U.S. state.
Safe harbor laws have been implemented to change the way systems of care respond to juveniles exploited in commercial sex in the United States; however, there is little research on the way these laws have impacted the identification and rehabilitation of juveniles. The current study examined secondary data on juveniles with prostitution-related charges from 2007 to 2017 (n = 17); juveniles who were screened for human trafficking by juvenile court personnel (n = 56,937); (3) screenings for human trafficking with juveniles in the juvenile justice system (n = 12,223); and (4) juveniles who were reported to the child welfare agency as possible victims of human trafficking (n = 697). The number of criminal cases of human trafficking involving victims under the age of 18 years old from 2007 to 2017 were analyzed by calendar year (n = 61). Aggregate, administrative data were accessed and analyzed. Findings indicate that juvenile justice and juvenile court personnel were screening for trafficking at an increasing rate and making referrals to the child welfare system as mandated by law; however, a relatively low percentage of these cases were substantiated, confirmed, and/or resulted in criminal charges to the trafficker. Despite safe harbor mandates that prohibit the charging of juveniles with prostitution offenses, there was evidence that this is still occurring in small numbers. Based on these findings, researchers have identified next steps to facilitate future investigations of safe harbor laws. (publisher abstract modified)