Testimony of Andrea Powell, Karana Rising 

BILL NO: House Bill 0827

TITLE: Child Sex Trafficking Screening and Services Act of 2019

COMMITTEE:  Judiciary

HEARING DATE:  February 21, 2019

POSITION:     SUPPORT

 

Summary:

Karana Rising supports HB0827 as a vital next step in protecting the rights and life chances for young survivors of human trafficking.

Karana Rising:

Karana Rising offers empowering services to support survivors of human trafficking in reaching their fullest potential in life.  Karana Rising’s team is led by survivors of human trafficking and intimate partner violence who use their lived experiences and 25 years of collective service to advocate and serve survivors in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area.  Karana Rising is a member of the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force where we co-lead the training and outreach committee. Our programs focus on prevention education, supportive counseling, life skills workshops, mentoring, artisan and wellness programs, and pathways to sustainable employment.  Karana Rising’s team has successfully led safe housing programs, national and local advocacy efforts, crisis services programs, and trainings for law enforcement and frontline responders.  Our national co-led curriculum, I AM JASMINE STRONG, has reached 11,000 teens across the nation since its inception in October 2018. As part of the Karana Rising’s team advocacy, we have published in The New York Times, NBC Think, MSNBC, Thomson Reuters, CNN, and the Huffington Post. 

The Faces of Child Sex Trafficking

The Karana Rising team has served more than 1,300 survivors of human trafficking in their collective experiences.  According to the Maryland Safe Harbor Workgroup 2017 report, between July 2013 and October 2017, over 350 child maltreatment reports of suspected child sex trafficking cases were screened in by Maryland’s 24 Local Department of Social Services agencies. This included over 290 individual suspected minor victims across the state.

There are common demographic themes as well as push and pull factors that create the pathways where trafficked youth fall prey to human traffickers there to exploit their vulnerabilities. This includes homelessness, prior sexual abuse, structural racism, and witnessing domestic violence. In our experience, approximately 90% of the young people we have served were American young people of color while 20% identify at LGBTQI youth.  Consistent with our experience, national statistics show that 70% of young survivors were in the child welfare or foster care system.  This begs the question of how these at-risk youth could have been overlooked by the very systems designed to keep them safe?  The reality is that without clear Safe Harbor legislation to protect youth and strengthen coordination, victim identification, and victim referral to services, the fault lines that lead youth to fall into sex trafficking grow larger. 

“Freedom Does Not Begin in Chains” – The Story of Madeline.

Madeline is now 23 years old and is currently struggling with homelessness.  At age 12, Madeline was lured by a registered foster parent in Montgomery County Maryland into the world of sex trafficking.  With her own father recently deceased, Madeline was lured with the false promise of a father figure who would take care of her while her mother struggled with depression and substance abuse. When her trafficker, Shelby Lewis[1], was arrested, Madeline and other girls were forced to earn $500 a night or risk additional beatings. At the home of Shelby Lewis, law enforcement discovered firearms, photographs of the child victims, and other women engaged in sex work at his home. Upon his arrest and conviction, it would seem Madeline’s suffering would be over. However, she was arrested and pulled into a cycle with the juvenile justice system that did not lead her to a life of recovery. Instead of receiving the care, support, and therapy she needed to heal, Madeline was charged, detained, and sent to locked facilities until she 18 years old.  Clearly, Madeline was treated as a criminal, not a victim of child sex trafficking. 

Core Beliefs:

HB0827 “Safe Harbor” will:

  • Increase positive life chances for young trafficking survivors by connecting them to direct service providers who will be a life line for them as they recover;

  • Increase prosecutions by creating more trusting relationships between survivors, law enforcement and service providers;

  • Passing “Safe Harbor” Will Reduce Future Victimization and Crimes

  • Reduce stigma by solidifying that child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking are treated as victims, not criminals.

Positive Outcomes for Safe Harbor – A District of Columbia Example:

The District of Columbia is one of 34 states to currently have enacted what is known as “Safe Harbor” legislation. This legislation has led to increased victim identification and access to direct services that in turn helps to break the cycle of victimization in the lives of exploited and trafficked minors.  The multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, court social services, social welfare agencies, and direct service providers meet weekly to discuss referred and potential trafficking cases to determine service provision and access to court programs.  This includes HOPE Court[2]; a newly formed court program designed to screen and connect court-involved youth who screen as high risk for commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking to this specialized court program.  Through this effort, the collaboration between law enforcement and social services has both deepened and become more codified. 

To date, HOPE Court has served more than 35 youth in the 14 months since its formal launch.  These youth are connected to service providers who then work with court social services with the goal of breaking the cycles of exploitation, abuse, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.  Through monthly planning meetings, the presiding Judge and members of the multi-disciplinary team strengthen the HOPE Court model.  Service providers like Karana Rising support these young survivors through services and weekly workshops.  

Increase positive life chances for young trafficking survivors by connecting them to direct service providers who will be a life line for them as they recover

The argument that arresting child victims of sex trafficking is the only way to keep them safely off the streets is based on two false premises.  First, that youth do not want to escape their traffickers.  Many youth do. Sex trafficking is serial rape for profit where on average, victims are forced to have sex 3 to 5 times a night. According to survivors who the Karana Rising team have met. While other teens are going to their first prom, engaging in sports and drama classes and having first crushes, these exploited youth are being raped on average 150 times a month for as long as their trafficking continues. It is our experience in working with young survivors in Maryland and D.C. that youth who are connected to counseling, mentors, and survivor peers are more likely to remain free of future exploitation, decrease incidences of leaving home, strengthen parental relationships, and participate willingly in the prosecution of their traffickers.  In fact, as youth recover from their abuse and feel more connected to their community, they are in a much stronger position to understand that their trafficker exploited them.  Left in detention and treated like a criminal, they are less likely to receive help and remain free of future abuse. It is unreasonable to think that this is a life they would like to go back to if they have other options to thrive.

When I met Madeline, she was living in detention and about to be homeless.  Her years in detention did not prepare her for living on her own.  Without a place to live, a job, or a GED, she was very vulnerable toward re-trafficking. My previous team and I supported her with safe housing, legal support, counseling, and access to our 24/7 crisis response services.  However, the years of stigma and trauma leave deep scars that make leading a stable life very hard. Victims of sex trafficking suffer debilitating bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts at exponential rates. Madeline still struggles to live a life free of abuse and exploitation and has experienced re-trafficking more than once as a young adult.  Had she been properly screened and referred to direct services as a homeless trafficked child, perhaps she would not now be struggling to remain free of the streets.

Increase prosecutions by creating more trusting relationships between survivors, law enforcement and service providers

This leads to the next false premise that there are no social services available for Maryland youth who are identified as victims of sex trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.  In fact, there is a vibrant and growing network of social service providers that include Safe Center, Promise Place, Karana Rising, Courtney’s House, and many more.  Coordinated services and multi-disciplinary teams that result from the passage of Safe Harbor will likely lead to increased service offerings.  By not passing Safe Harbor legislation, we simply leave ourselves at the status quo and leave youth more vulnerable to re-victimization.

We have an obligation to ensure that future survivors of human trafficking receive access to services and legal protection from prosecution for crimes committed against them, not by them. Safe Harbor is a critical next step in ensuring human trafficking survivors like Madeline are found, screened, and offered life-saving services.

Through this legislation, a network of Regional Navigators[3] will be created to span the state.  These Regional Navigators will be located in 6 Maryland geographic areas that will ensure coverage across the state. In addition to their coordinated services to child survivors in their respective regions, they will also be required to participate in the annual evaluation process for the Safe Harbor program. Funding oversight and data collection will be critical components to the success of this legislation.

Through this proposed legislation, the Maryland Safe Harbor program will evaluate core elements of the functionality of Safe Harbor. This includes the ways in which the GOCCP evaluates and designates the most experienced service providers in the region. The Department of Human Services (“DHS”) is also required by the bill to provide statistics annually to ensure children are being referred into the Regional Navigators.  Thus, we will be able to better understand how to best identify, refer, and serve child victims.

Passing “Safe Harbor” Will Reduce Future Victimization and Crimes

It is key to use the criminal justice system to further manipulate young victims. Traffickers often use the threat of arrest to ensure their victims do not attempt to seek help or escape.  Thus, when victims like Madeline are arrested, the threats of their traffickers come true. This increases a young victims fear and pushes them further under the shadows where they are likely to continue to be raped, abused, and exploited. Based on the Karana Rising’s team experience, approximately 50% of the survivors we serve were first arrested before being helped.

Through this legislation, a network of providers will be created to span the state.  These Regional Navigators will be located in 6 Maryland geographic areas that will ensure coverage across the state. In addition to their coordinated services to child survivors in their respective regions, they will also be required to participate in the annual evaluation process for the Safe Harbor program. Funding oversight and data collection will be critical components to the success of this legislation.

Nationally, as well as in Maryland, the number of children who are arrested or prosecuted for charges of prostitution is steadily declining[4] from the average 1000 arrests of child victims in 2010.  In 2017, 284 children were arrested for the crime of prostitution[5] when in fact they were victims of child sex trafficking. This number must go to zero by legislating that such arrests of victims cannot be made.  In doing so, we also have a chance to reduce the number of child victims who later go on to become the very adults we arrest for prostitution. Last year, 38,306[6] such adult arrests were made.  With the average age of entry into commercial being between 14 to 16 years old (according to data from the Karana Rising team), the belief that many of these adults were likely first child victims is well-founded.

Reduce stigma by solidifying that child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking are treated as victims, not criminals.

To strengthen Maryland’s capacity to protect child victims, this legislation also allows for protective temporary custody to be expanded to child sex trafficking survivors. This will also ensure that law enforcement, on the reasonable suspicion of human trafficking, contact the Regional Navigator in their region and begin the process of intake. This is critical to ensuring that child victims are not simply released back into the hands of potential traffickers or abusive or neglectful situations that may led them to leaving home.

Traffickers are experts at understanding how to prey upon a young person’s weaknesses.  They offer love, family and a better life when in reality they actually give rape, abuse, sexual humiliation and shaming, threats to loved ones, denial of food, and withholding of emotional or physical intimacy for compliance.  Part of this compliance is often committing crimes such as trespassing, theft, or worse. This leads a child to believe that they are the criminals that no one will want to help. The cycles of stress, instability, and mental anguish leave young victims feeling helpless and unsure of who to trust.  Madeline’s past with law enforcement responses shows these concerns in 2009 are still quite valid today in 2019 while Safe Harbor has yet to be passed in Maryland.

Madeline’s trafficker knew Madeline was desperate for fatherly love after her own dad died. He saw her alone on the streets as a young runaway looking to find that affection and offered her a place to live.  She and other young victims were forced to make $500 a night on the streets of Maryland and D.C. When her trafficker was finally arrested, firearms where among those items found in his home where his young victims were being held.  In 2009, Madeline could have received services that exist now as they did then.  This could have begun to help her find that stability she so deeply craved.

Madeline is now an advocate, consultant at Karana Rising, and an emerging urvivor leader.  She does this despite her continued challenges with employment and homelessness.  Her strength is awe-inspiring. What could her life have been like if Safe Harbor legislation existed in the State of Maryland in 2009 when she was first arrested prostitution as a child? That is something we will never know.

We can do better by hundreds of young victims who should be identified and served in Maryland today. We do better by the “Madelines” of today by learning from those who came before.

 [1] https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/washingtondc/press-releases/2010/wfo110110a.htm

[2] http://news.trust.org/item/20180129134258-h4lwd/

[4] https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/aus9010.pdf

[5] https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/qa05101.asp?qaDate=2017&text=yes

[6] https://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000120)