When people see children in danger or being harmed, everybody wants to do something to protect them. Few people question the good intentions of the missionaries who were arrested in Haiti for trying to rescue children supposedly orphaned by the devastating earthquakes that destroyed so much of that country. Many people, however, have commented on their naïveté in rushing in without thoroughly investigating the situation or understanding the laws and ramifications of the rescue operation. That inexperience and lack of sophistication is replicated often when it comes to protecting children. Currently, the Georgia state legislature is considering a bill (S.B. 304) that would decriminalize the prostitution of children. Those supporting the bill are very well-meaning and want to protect children. They want the children who are exploited by adults to be treated as victims, not criminals. They believe that preventing the arrest of a prostituted child, is the best way to keep her safe.
They couldn’t be more wrong. By removing the ability of police to take these children into custody, thus separating them from their pimps, these children are left at the mercy of the pimps, traffickers and johns. How can the police and prosecutors build a case against the pimps and johns when there is no crime on the books? Now, few pimps and johns are arrested; it is difficult to believe this law will help abused children or enable the police and prosecutors to end the demand. How can the child get the help she needs when she is still vulnerable to those who would benefit from her exploitation? When a police officer spots a girl obviously being exploited and he or she cannot take her into custody but instead is required to report the fact and contact others to come get her (through mandatory child abuse reporting mechanisms), what is to keep that young girl from running back to the “security” of her pimp?
The plain, hard fact is that legal means are necessary to help the girls –– get them the services and rehabilitation that they need –– and prosecute the pimps and johns. If the crime were decriminalized, the police officers’ ability to intervene would be limited.