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A Multi State Evaluation of Safe Harbor Laws

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $499,034)

This program furthers the Department's mission by enhancing what is understood about the commercial sexual exploitation of children and advancing evidence-based interventions and services.

The consequences of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are considerable for youth, as are consequences of contact with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In response, legislation has been enacted to protect victims of CSEC. Nationally, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) calls for decriminalizing juvenile prostitution. In response, several states have enacted safe harbor policies to decriminalize juvenile prostitution and/or divert CSEC-involved youth away from formal processing and into services. Research has not yet examined the effectiveness of safe harbor legislation in terms diversion and whether juveniles protected by safe harbor laws are less likely to have subsequent contact with justice systems compared to youth charged with prostitution.

The proposed study has three main goals. The first goal is to examine whether the passage of the TVPA has had a measurable effect on juvenile prostitution arrest rates. Using Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) data (from 1990 to the most recent year available), this study will assess whether reductions in arrests for juvenile prostitution are associated with the passage of TVPA.

The second goal is to examine juvenile and criminal justice outcomes associated with safe harbor laws. This study will examine whether juveniles protected under safe harbor laws are less likely to have subsequent contacts with the juvenile and criminal justice system, and whether extralegal factors (e.g., race, ethnicity, age, and gender) influence judicial decision-making regarding diversion, prosecution, and sentencing. The proposed study will compare re-contact data from seven states with safe harbor legislation enacted prior to January 2012 with comparison states without safe harbor legislation. This 2012 cutoff permits a minimum two-year follow-up period for assessing safe harbor policy effects on youth re-contact with juvenile and criminal justice systems.

The third goal is to identify emerging patterns in the administration and implementation of safe harbor legislation in three states with different CSEC policies. Focus groups with stakeholders (e.g., court actors, law enforcement officers, service providers) and interviews with CSEC-involved youth will be conducted and analyzed to identify common themes across subjects' experiences with safe harbor/prosecution of juvenile prostitution.

Findings will be disseminated to professional and lay audiences via a final report, state specific policy reports, articles in scientific journals, presentations at scientific meetings, and practice and policy briefings.


Date Created: August 28, 2014