By Diane Bernard, Maryland News Connection
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A new report ranks Maryland as one of the worst states in providing support for young victims of sex trafficking.
While Maryland has made some progress in this area, the Shared Hope International report card puts the state near the bottom, at 44th, with a failing grade.
It said Maryland must do better in identifying victims, and in its response to them.
Melanie Shapiro, public policy director for the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, part of the state’s anti-trafficking task force, said it is still among the few states treating trafficked children as criminals, placing them in juvenile detention instead of providing much-needed services.
“The criminal and juvenile justice system can be re-traumatizing for child victims of sex trafficking,” Shapiro explained. “So, we need to have a trauma-informed and victim-centered approach.”
Her group is working on legislation for the upcoming General Assembly session to provide “safe harbor” laws, to keep trafficked minors from being arrested and charged as prostitutes or for related offenses.
Shapiro pointed out Maryland is one of only a handful of states that have not adopted safe harbor policies to protect sexually exploited children. She thinks misperceptions on TV or in movies about victims often distort the reality of serious abuse by traffickers, who prey on vulnerable kids and teens.
“Sex traffickers lure them in as pretending to be somebody that loves them and cares for them,” Shapiro noted. “And then they do terrible things to them, including physically abusing them, sexually abusing them. They make a child perform sex acts for money. That is one of the most awful things that they can do.”
Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act in 2019, creating a program to help law enforcement work with social-services agencies, and bring support to suspected child victims.
But Shapiro argued a safe-harbor law is the only way to keep them from incarceration.
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