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Safe Harbor Laws: Changing the Legal Response to Minors Involved in Commercial Sex, Phase 1. The Legal Review

NCJ Number
Date Published
February 2018
44 pages
This report presents the findings and methodology of the first of three phases of the evaluation of state safe harbor laws (SHLs), which are intended to remove the punitive sanctions for young victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
This first phase of the evaluation focuses on the evolution of safe harbor laws (SHLs) in the United States, which includes an overview of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), a review of the philosophy and conceptualization of SHLs, and a presentation of the findings regarding states' efforts to adopt SHLs. These findings from Phase 1 will inform work in the subsequent evaluation phases. Phase 2, which is already in process, involves a quantitative assessment of SHLs, using a quasi-experimental, longitudinal design to compare counties that have and have not implemented SHLs over an 11-year period (2005-15). Phase 3 will consist of an in-depth assessment of two states, one that implemented SHLs with positive results, and one that implemented SHLs with no positive results. A comparative analysis of the data found that by the end of 2017, 35 states (70 percent) had enacted SHLs to remove the punitive sanctions for young victims of CSE. The remaining 15 states do not have a SHL. Thirteen states continue to treat these victims as criminals, and two states allow for an affirmative defense. On average, about four states per year have enacted SHLs since 2009, with 90 percent of states enacting SHLs between 2013 and 2017. 2 figures, 4 tables, 67 references, and appended coding protocol

Date Published: February 1, 2018