The Alameda County Girls Court in California is a tribunal created specifically for young, at-risk females that may be involved in, or on the verge of, child prostitution. The all-girls court is the result of collaboration between the judicial system and social services in California, where vulnerable girls have access to resources to escape sex trafficking pitfalls.
The Alameda County Girls Court does more for at-risk girls than simply represent them in court. The system links defendants to social service agencies that offer sessions on how to overcome debilitating issues such as body image and peer pressure. The sessions also act as educational platforms to discuss legal terminology and rights. The goal is to provide at-risk girls, and sometimes their parents, with resources and opportunities to avoid breaking the law and stay on the path for long-term success.
The Alameda County Girls Court is one of a dozen nationwide implementing these initial steps and sessions once a girl is identified as at-risk for being pulled into sex trafficking and child prostitution, or other serious lives of crime. What cities with such court systems did first was train judges and lawyers to acknowledge the warning signs and red flags presented by the girls when they are first found disobeying the law. Other examples of such efforts include Safe Harbor laws and Human Trafficking Intervention Courts.
If the troubled girls show indications of being extremely at-risk and vulnerable to child prostitution, the advocacy and social services aspect of the partnership steps in, hopefully early enough to have an impact and turn the lives around. The vast majority of at-risk youth have experienced some form of abuse growing up that can lead to long-term issues and problematic behavior. The court is working with social services to address these underlying concerns from the start.
It is important for all members of the judicial system to understand their role in identifying the candidates and taking proactive steps to correct the behavior and offer help rather than punish the girls who are likely victims of sex trafficking, The New York Times reported.
Extent of the Problem
An estimated 300,000 minors have been forced into sex trafficking in the United States. One of the many vulnerabilities these at-risk youth face, particularly girls, is the potential for unexpected pregnancies, STDs or other sexual health-related problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System breaks down health-risk behaviors that contribute to death, disability and social problems for at-risk youth and young adults between 9th and 12th grade nationwide. Some key findings from the 2011 study include:
- 47.4 percent of students have had sexual intercourse
- 60.2 percent of sexually active students used a condom
- 23.3 percent used birth control
- 22.1 percent drank or used drugs before intercourse
- 12.9 percent had been tested for HIV
To prevent these and other adverse results such as violence, drug use or death, many states are adopting Safe Harbor laws. These legislations must first stop the legal system from prosecuting minor victims for prostitution charges through immunity and assistance. Children at risk of becoming victims should be proactively protected from sex trafficking with specialized housing, programs, services, mentorship and protocols to break the cycle.