The Protected Innocence Initiative: Building Protective State Law Regimes for America’s Sex-Trafficked Children

77 Pages Posted: 14 May 2013

See all articles by Tessa Dysart

Tessa Dysart

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law

Date Written: May 13, 2013


Under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), the prostitution of minors under the age of eighteen falls specifically within the crime of human trafficking, which makes prostituted children trafficking victims. Human sex trafficking includes the “recruit[ing], entic[ing], harbor[ing], transport[ing], provid[ing], obtain[ing], or maintain[ing]” of minors for commercial sexual exploitation. The passage of the TVPA increased political and public awareness of the existence of human trafficking, but initially most of this awareness was focused on trafficking across international borders. In recent years, however, the federal government and non-profit organizations have turned their attention to the trafficking of U.S. citizens in general and domestic minor sex trafficking in particular.

“Domestic minor sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders and is synonymous with child sex slavery, child sex trafficking, prostitution of children, and commercial sexual exploitation of children.” Although Congress has enacted tough laws that comprehensively address the crime of sex trafficking, limited federal enforcement resources constrain the federal government’s ability to combat domestic minor sex trafficking, which is just one subset of the overall crime of human trafficking. Furthermore, because domestic minor sex trafficking involves the prostitution of children, the prosecution of which has traditionally been a matter of state and local concern, it is important for states to play a significant role in prosecuting domestic minor sex traffickers and providing restorative care to victims. However, while many states criminalize human trafficking, only some states’ laws specifically address minor sex trafficking, and many of the laws are not as comprehensive and protective as federal law. Some states even treat trafficking victims as criminals or delinquents under state law.

Until recently, the full extent to which state law addressed domestic minor sex trafficking and provided restorative care to victims was unknown. In December 2010, Shared Hope International, a non-profit organization committed to eradicating sex trafficking and slavery, announced the Protected Innocence Initiative, which “set[] out the basic policy principles required to create a safer environment for children.” The Initiative’s goal was to undertake a detailed analysis of the laws of each state and the District of Columbia on domestic minor sex trafficking and related issues, including laws criminalizing the commercial sexual abuse of children, laws pertaining to non-commercial child sexual abuse, child protective (dependency) and delinquency provisions, and laws relating to police training and investigative techniques. The analysis, which was undertaken with the American Center for Law and Justice, identified numerous weaknesses in state domestic minor sex trafficking laws that must be remedied for states to effectively and comprehensively address domestic minor sex trafficking. While some states have improved their laws since the Protected Innocence Initiative research was completed, there is still a significant amount of work to be done to make state laws truly protective of domestic minor sex trafficking victims.

In Part II of this Article, I explain the purpose and necessity of the Protected Innocence Initiative by first reviewing the federal laws on domestic minor sex trafficking, which provide a useful comparison point for state laws, and then examining the need for states and localities to play a role in investigating and prosecuting domestic minor sex trafficking. In Part III, I set out the specific policy principles analyzed in the Protected Innocence Initiative Methodology, explain why the Protected Innocence Initiative focused on a methodology rather than a model law, and review the Protected Innocence Initiative’s findings on key components. Finally, in Part IV, I discuss state legislative responses to domestic minor sex trafficking since the Protected Innocence Initiative and recommend additional steps for the future.

Keywords: human trafficking, state legislation, domestic minor sex trafficking, human rights

Suggested Citation

Dysart, Tessa, The Protected Innocence Initiative: Building Protective State Law Regimes for America’s Sex-Trafficked Children (May 13, 2013). Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 44, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Tessa Dysart (Contact Author)

University of Arizona - James E. Rogers College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210176
Tucson, AZ 85721-0176
United States
(520) 626-3698 (Phone)

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