Assemblyman William Scarborough appeared on the Dan Abrams Show on MSNBC recently to discuss a new bill he sponsored in the NYS Assembly, the Safe Harbour for Exploited Youth Act. This law would protect children under the age of 18 from criminal prosecution for prostitution.

In a case last summer, a 12 year old girl was charged with offering sex to an undercover officer in the Bronx. Though she was legally incapable of consenting to a sex act, she could still be found guilty of prostitution because the state’s law on prostitution does not contain an age requirement. The proposed bill would protect minors from being charged with prostitution and instead get them counseling.

Dan Abrams said he couldn’t understand how a young girl who can’t legally consent to having sex could be charged for selling sex. “How can we possibly say that young girls, often forced into prostitution, are criminally responsible for having sex with older men?”

The figures are startling. It’s estimated 300,000 youth are being commercially sexually exploited in the US and an estimated 10 million children worldwide are involved in the $20 billion a year sex industry. The majority of these children come from abusive households and are runaways. They are recruited at bus depots and even shelters for runaways. The 12 year old who was charged with offering sex to an undercover officer last year was recruited at the age of 11 at Covenant House, the primary city residence for runaway children. The sidewalk right outside in what should be a safe house for these troubled children are filled with pimps who are only to willing to “take care” of and exploit them.

During a NYS Assembly Committee on Children and Families sponsored Roundtable Discussion on the Safe Harbour for Exploited Youth Bill, four former child victims of prostitution spoke describing their enslavement by their pimps: the beatings, brutality and degradation.

Under current state law, children as young as 16 can face criminal prostitution chargers. Those under the age of 16 can be treated as juvenile delinquents. Uner Scarborough’s bill, offenders would be handled through the PINS (Persons in Need of Supervision) process in Family Court and requires crisis intervention services, shelter care and training for law enforcement officiers. Explaining the need for shelter care, he said, “This bill would mandate that there be emergency shelter in case this child needs to be brought—to prosecute the pimp because if she‘s prosecuting her landlord, she has no place to go.”

Scarborough emphasized prosecuting children who are already being exploited does little good, saying, “These are children who have been exploited. They come out of homes looking for somebody to help them. They end up in this situation. They end up locked up. They‘re exploited twice. Our focus is also to have companion legislation that strengthens the penalties on the pimps and the adults that put these children into this situation in the first place.”

There is only one program in the entire state of New York that provides counseling and long-term care for these youngsters, he said. “They need counseling because of what they‘ve gone through. They need long-term housing, if they can‘t go back to their residents. And they need to be put in a situation where they can get education and vocational counseling.” He said summing up, “Those things are not done. This is what this bill does.”

The Safe Harbour for Exploited Youth act has a Senate sponsor, Senator Dale Volker and it is expected to be pass into law.