Lawmakers in New Mexico are seeking to change the Children’s Code when it comes to prostitution and human trafficking.
The Prostitution as Delinquent act is a bill that proposes several changes to the Children’s Code in New Mexico. The Children’s Code is New Mexico’s code of juvenile law.
This bill is aimed at offering better protection for children caught in prostitution or human trafficking through four different amendments. The amendments within House Bill 56 would bring New Mexico Code up to federal law standard.
The purpose is that minors are treated as victims and not as criminalsSusan Loubet of the NM Women’s Agenda
“Currently in the state of New Mexico, you can be charged as a child prostitute, which is absolutely in contradiction to what federal law defines as domestic minor sex trafficking,” said Shelley Repp of the New Mexico Human Trafficking Task Force.
Susan Loubet of the New Mexico Women’s Agenda explained that the purpose of this bill is two fold. The first purpose is that minors who have engaged in prostitution are seen as victims of human trafficking in the law, and the second purpose is that help is offered to these minors as a requirement of the law.
“The purpose is that minors are treated as victims and not as criminals,” Loubet said.
House Bill 56 proposes to remove the prostitution as a delinquent act from the code. Any child caught in prostitution would no longer be committing a delinquent act and would no longer be subject to punishment under the code.
NM Rep. Gail Chasey D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of this bill, said that the current law is contradictory to itself. The current code charges children with prostitution, but children younger than 18 are under the age of consent.
“It’s a legal impossibility for children to have consensual sex” Chasey said.
According to the code, a delinquent act is an act committed by a minor that would be designated as a crime under the law if it was committed by an adult.
“Traffickers currently use threats that (prostitution) is a crime to keep them under their power,” Loubet said. By removing this charge from the code, the threat of the trafficker becomes obsolete.
House Bill 56 also proposes an amendment the code that would allow a court to order the provision of family services in cases where the family’s child is alleged to have engaged in prostitution or been a victim of human trafficking.
This would be allowed in cases where the family has refused the services or Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has exhausted “appropriate and available family services,” according to the Fiscal Report of HB 56.
House Bill 56 also proposes to allow officers to take children into protective custody if they reasonably believe the child is engaged in prostitution or is a victim of human trafficking. The officer would not need a court order to take the child into protective custody according to the proposed updates to the code.
The last amendment to the code proposed by House Bill 56 is a requirement of CYFD to provide the child with appropriate treatment and services. This would be required regardless of whether CYFD returns the child to its parent, guardian, or custodian, or files a petition for custody.
Under federal law, children are not charged as delinquents when engaging in prostitution or when they are victims of sex trafficking. According to 18 U.S.C § 1591, Sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud, or coercion, it is illegal to engage in child prostitution. This crime is punishable from ten years to life in prison.
When the victim is a minor, section 1591 does not require proof that the minor was forced to engage in any commercial sex act. House Bill 56 would bring New Mexico in compliance with this law.
The proposed measure would not reverse cases that were adjudicated in the past. According to UNM Law Professor April Land, House Bill 56 only applies to cases in the future. There are provisions in the Children’s Code where minors can request to have charges removed from their record.
This law falls under a nationwide movement known as “Safe Harbor Laws.” According to the Polaris Project, safe harbor laws are those that protect and assist children who have been exploited for labor or sex. The Polaris Project also states that these laws are intended to address the inconsistencies of these cases at the state level and to provide proper treatment for the children. Thirty four states have passed safe harbor laws,
House Bill 56 does not change the state law regarding punishment for adults engaging in child prostitution. Prostitution of children by adults is illegal in New Mexico.
House Bill 56 passed unanimously in the New Mexico House of Representatives. If this bill is passed in the Senate, Governor Lujan Grisham will have ten days to sign it into law or veto the bill.
You can follow Bethany Johnson on Twitter @bethanyjson.