In a slow shift in their approach toward prostitution, prosecutors are more frequently focusing their efforts primarily on pimps and madams - rather than the prostitutes themselves.
In fact, Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that seven states - New York, Nevada, Vermont, Washington State, Maryland, Illinois and Hawaii - all have legislation that not only refers to prostitutes as "sex trafficking victims," but under certain circumstances, allows their charges to be dropped and their convictions to be vacated.
These laws include minors in particular, but not always.
Trafficking is defined as the use of force or threat of force or some type of coercion or fraud in order to sell any person for the use of commercial sex OR to cause a person under the age of 18 to engage in a sex act in exchange for money.
A recent article in the New York Times detailed how this approach was working in New York. There, prosecutors were choosing not to go after prostitutes, but rather those who profited from the sale of their bodies. Under old laws, pimps usually faced up to 15 years in prison. Now, updated laws carry a max sentence of up to 25 years. Plus, customers who pay for adult prostitutes used to face up to three months in jail. Now, they face up to a year.
While there is a similar federal law passed in 2000 that increased trafficking penalties, federal prosecutors typically don't have jurisdiction unless a person has been trafficked across state borders.
Right now in Washington, D.C., prostitutes are still arrested regularly. Sex trafficking leaves not only life-long emotional scars upon a victim, but it can also affect his or her future if that arrest or conviction remains on their record.
D.C. Criminal code 22-2701 lays forth that a prostitution arrest can result in up to 90 days in jail. Second or subsequent offenses may include increased jail time and harsh fines.
This is why it's important to have an experienced attorney represent you - one who understands that being victimized by human trafficking is not your fault.
Although D.C. prosecutors don't formally recognize trafficking as a defense to prosecution, if your defense attorney can prove that you were in fact a victim, you may be allowed to plead to some lesser offense or have the charges dropped in exchange for admission to a diversion program.
One of those is called Angels Project Power Program. It is operated by a former prostitute. She was raped and nearly killed in 1987 while working the downtown streets. She works to help prostitutes and trafficking victims learn life skills to help them heal and re-establish themselves in society.
Another resource to aid trafficking victims is the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force, which was founded in 2004. It works to identify victims of sex trafficking and to provide extensive services to these individuals.
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