Inslee signs ‘Safe Harbor’ legislation to support child sex trafficking victims

OLYMPIA – On Friday, April 3, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation (House Bill 1775) to provide ‘Safe Harbor’ to victims of child sex trafficking. The policy prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from being charged with the crime of prostitution and creates a therapeutic pilot program where law enforcement can place sexually exploited youth instead of detention to receive intensive wrap around services.

“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.”

Two new liaisons within the Dept. of Children, Youth & Families will connect youth in the program to services to help them recover from sexual trauma, abuse, substance user disorder and develop life skills and healthy coping mechanisms. The policy still allows law enforcement to take youth victims into custody for their protection when a child is in danger.

“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).

“This bill is almost fifty years in the making—it finally brings Washington in line with thirty other states in the nation and in accordance with the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). We are deeply grateful to the bill sponsors and our governor for sending a clear message: Washington will no longer criminalize youth for their own sexual abuse and exploitation,” said Shoshana Wineburg, Director of Public Policy and Communications for Youth Care, an organization which supports youth experiencing homelessness in Washington.

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 new law will take effect on June 10, 2020. Stakeholders, including survivors, state agencies, law enforcement and service providers will cover implementation of the policy and development of the new receiving centers throughout the interim.