The Michigan Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would make it illegal to charge minors with prostitution.
"Right now, when children who are victims of sex trafficking in Michigan are found, they’re frequently criminalized," says Bridgette Carr of the University of Michigan Human Trafficking Clinic. "We don’t have a path for them to be treated as victims of sexual abuse, rather than criminals."
"This bill begins that paradigm shift. It says that for children who are being sold for sex in Michigan, they are immune from being charged and we will put them in a protected space to be treated as victims," says Carr.
Kids sold for sex, but once caught, no pathway into child protection
Currently, anyone 16 or older can be charged with prostitution.
This bill would raise that age to 18. It now moves to the Michigan House for approval.
It's part of a bigger package of bills in both houses to crack down on human trafficking in the state.
Combined, several of those bills would 1) require a police officer to immediately take a minor into custody for a family court hearing, if the officer believes the child was being prostituted; 2) require the court to refer the minor to child services; and 3) provide foster care, mental health and medical treatment for the child.
Right now, that's not happening, says Carr.
"We know of a case in Ann Arbor where a 14-year-old was being sold for sex in a hotel. She was held and charged as a juvenile in possession of tobacco," Carr says, "because our child protection system does not have a path to take her in as a sexual-abuse victim."
"I mean, what do you do at 2 a.m. with that child, when you have a child protection system that says you can't put her in there? We have to give law enforcement more choices," Carr said.