What Is Safe Harbor?


Non criminalization recognizes that child and youth sex trafficking victims should not be penalized for a crime that was committed against them and should not be involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system as a result. Both non-criminalization and past Safe Harbor laws focus on eliminating criminal liability for child survivors, but still lack an important element for a just response….

Safe Harbor

Current Safe Harbor laws are designed to reduce the criminalization of child and youth sex trafficking victims but some Safe Harbor laws may still direct some children to the juvenile justice system, adding to their trauma and creating more barriers to healing.

The Future of Safe Harbor

Ensuring victims of child and youth sex trafficking are not involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system AND receive trauma-informed care. Appropriate identification and access to services are vital to creating a just response for victims of child and youth sex trafficking.

What's In a Name? Blog Post

What’s in a name? A lot, actually. In the area of anti-sex trafficking law and policy, words and definitions matter. They have the ability to affect thousands of lives of individuals who have survived sex trafficking. In recent years, policy makers and anti-trafficking advocates around the nation have been celebrating the success and passage of “Safe Harbor” laws . . . the problem? No one knows what that means.

By Christine Raino and Eliza Reock

Behind everything that is put on the face of a trafficking survivor, what they are really like is human. When you strip everything down, they’re not a bad person, they’re not a perpetrator, they’re not a delinquent. They are not somebody who has chosen this life. They are a child and they have had experiences that no child should ever have.


Why Non-Criminalization Matters

Placing victims of child and youth sex trafficking within the juvenile justice system leads to additional trauma and inaccurately reflects their status as victims. Instead, they should be appropriately identified to obtain the support they need, not a criminal record that will follow them.

Why Access to Services Matter

Child and youth sex trafficking victims experienced unfathomable trauma that will take specialized services to help them heal. Victims deserve access to physical, mental, and psychological support and services to help them heal and set a firm foundation for their future lives.

Too often systems are the default for protecting children, and too often these systems separate children from their families, from their communities, and from the very support networks that build their resilience to avoid being re-trafficked. Because the gap in state responses is so important to address, we incorporated it into our framework for grading state laws. We will no longer grade states solely on whether services are available in the state. We are now looking at whether those services are available to all children. Investing in ending child sex trafficking means investing in services that allow children to stay connected with their families and communities.

What we do to children in this country is very unfortunate and they pay the price for what has happened to them. The buyers get to go home and live normal lives and continue in their marriages, in their jobs and careers, and are never affected by this. But while they’re home, you have a child sitting in a jail cell. And where’s the justice in that?


The Institute for Justice and Advocacy is Leading the Way

What You Can Do

Legislative Technical Support

As a state or national legislator or stakeholder, we invite you to consult with our policy team to craft strong laws to fight child sex trafficking.  Request a consultation.

We have children who have been victimized, raped- constantly, night after night, and then they come in contact with law enforcement and they’re arrested . . . that is backwards.


How is Your State Doing with Safe Harbor Laws?