Alabama Could Protect Teen Prostitutes from Prosecution

Pimps and prostitutes would face tougher penalties while prostitutes under the age of 17 would not face jail time under the Human Trafficking Safe Harbor Act, legislation being considered in Alabama. It would ensure teenage prostitutes are seen as victims, not criminals.

But prostitution is a crime. Why wouldn’t police want to charge the hooker, even if she or he is a teenager?

“No one just decided, ‘I’m 16 and I want to be a prostitute.’ There are circumstances in their life that put them in that situation,” said Barry Matson, the vice chair of the Alabama Task Force on Human Trafficking.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams (R) has 61 co-sponsors. It is designed to increase penalties for pimps and johns, while ensuring children under the age of 17 are not penalized for prostitution.

“We have to find ways to help people trapped in this life,” said Williams who is the chairman of the Task Force on Human Trafficking. “If a 17-year-old is out there doing this, there’s something desperately wrong that needs to be addressed.”

Teenagers picked up in prostitution arrests usually don’t go to jail in Alabama. But it can, and does, happen.

The Anniston Star reported nearly three-fourths of Alabama police officers think it is acceptable to arrest a minor on a prostitution charge, according to an informal poll conduced in 2014 by the Alabama Fusion Center, a state and federal criminal intelligence agency.

According to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force’s website, enditalabama.org, teenage prostitution is a “brutal form” of human trafficking and it has become a tragic fact of life in Alabama, as well as the cities bordering Alabama, including: Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta and Chattanooga.

“Human trafficking continues to escalate and spill over into Alabama communities,” according to the task force’s website. “Human trafficking cases have been reported all across the state.”

Tajuan McCarty, the founder and executive director of The Wellhouse, a Christian-based shelter, told the task force that human trafficking involving teenagers, mostly girls, being forced into prostitution “is (happening) next door to you. It’s in your backyard.”

This is a subject on which McCarty speaks from unimpeachable authority. She was a victim of human trafficking and forced into prostitution when she was 15 years old.

“No woman in her right mind chooses to prostitute herself,” according to The Wellhouse website.

“In many cases, she is lured in by a ‘boyfriend’ who turns out to be a pimp or trafficker. Once she finds out, escaping from the life is difficult and dangerous. Nearly 90% of prostituted women say they want out immediately, but the decision is out of their hands and in the hands of their pimps, their boyfriends or husbands, their addictions, or their children’s financial support.”

Pat McCay, the secretary of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, told WHNT-TV most people believe the majority of teen prostitutes are brought into the state from other countries, but that isn’t true.

McCay said most of the girls forced into prostitution in Alabama are from the Tennessee Valley and many of them are teenagers who have run away from home.

McCay said within the first two days of leaving home, as many as one-third of young runaways wind up on the street as prostitutes.

The Alabama Legislature is not the only venue where this fight is being waged.