OLYMPIA – On Tuesday, January 19, the Washington state House of Representatives passed ‘Safe Harbor’ legislation (House Bill 1775) to better help child survivors of sex trafficking.
“Children cannot consent to sex. They are victims of serious crimes,” said prime sponsor Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines. “Traffickers target the most vulnerable, which means our foster youth are the most at risk. These are kids in all our communities, and they are experiencing severe trauma and abuse that can last a lifetime. We need to help them heal.”
The legislation would:
- Prohibit charging anyone under the age of 18 with the crime of prostitution;
- Allow law enforcement to take youth victims into custody for their protection when the child is in danger;
- Create liaisons within the Dept. of Children, Youth and Families to connect youth to services and
- Pilot two therapeutic receiving centers, one on each side of the Cascades, where law enforcement can take sexually exploited children instead of detention. Youth will be able to receive intensive wrap around services to begin the process of recovery.
“These young people have experienced enough trauma for a lifetime. They need help, resources, and a trauma-informed care approach, and that’s what this legislation will provide,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, who sponsored the Senate companion (Senate Bill 5744).
Washington state has one of the highest rates of commercial sex trafficking in the United States. In the Seattle/King County alone, law enforcement estimates between 300-500 youth are trafficked each year, however sex trafficking is an underreported crime globally.
The legislation passed out of the House 96 to 1. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. The 60-day legislative session will conclude on March 12, 2020.