The overwhelming majority of these sexually exploited youth have a history of psychological, physical or sexual abuse as younger children and many have been raised amidst stark poverty and family dysfunction. Currently, the state’s response to this issue has been to prosecute sexually exploited youth as criminals. This response is ineffective as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating victimized youth serves to re-traumatize them and to increase their feelings of low self-esteem. This only makes the process of recovery more difficult. Appropriate services for sexually exploited youth do not exist in the juvenile justice system and that both federal and international law recognize that sexually exploited youth are the victims of crime and should be treated as such.
Therefore, sexually exploited youth should not be prosecuted under the criminal penal law for acts of prostitution. Instead, services should be created to meet the needs of these youth outside of the justice system. Sexually exploited youth deserve the protection and services of the family court through processes in place for persons in need of supervision, including diversion, crisis intervention, counseling and emergency and long-term housing services.
While respondent has no prior juvenile delinquency or PINS adjudications which would disqualify her from seeking relief under Family Court Act § 311.4(3), the Court has serious doubts as to respondent’s current willingness to accept and cooperate with specialized services for sexually exploited youth. While the statute does not define “specialized services for sexually exploited youth”, Social Services Law § 447-a and § 447-b indicate that such services may include a “short-term safe house” which is “a residential facility operated by an authorized agency including an approved runaway program or a not-for-profit agency with experience in providing services to sexually exploited youth and approved in accordance with the regulations of the office of children and family services that provides emergency shelter, services and care to sexually exploited children including food, shelter, clothing, medical care, counseling and appropriate crisis intervention services”
Finally, a “community-based program” also qualifies as a specialized service for sexually exploited youth. A “community-based program” means “a program operated by a not-for-profit organization that provides services such as street outreach, voluntary drop-in services, peer counseling, family-therapy ad referrals for services such as educational and vocational training and health care”.
Although the respondent is merely 15 1/2 years old, she has suffered deprivation at the hands of her own parents who have previously neglected her and whose parental rights have long been terminated. Notwithstanding the demonstrated inability of her own parents to care for her, the state through its courts and public and private social service agencies have attempted to provide the respondent with stability and the necessities required to become a healthy and well-adjusted adult. However, there is no indication that these efforts have proved successful.
According to the supervisor at the Foundling hospital, respondent has been involved in prostitution since the age of twelve, and attempts to correct this self-destructive and dangerous behavior have failed. Respondent has regularly run away from her foster home for long periods of time when her whereabouts have been unknown to those charged with caring for her. She was arrested for Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, found in the home of a known pimp by police along with another underage female, and arrested for Prostitution thereafter.
According to the Foundling hospital, that agency had referred the respondent to the program, which is recognized as highly effective in addressing the needs of young women who are victims of sexual exploitation, but respondent ran from the program. Respondent has now given birth to her own child and despite efforts by social services officials to keep mother and child together, it appears that respondent has been unable or unwilling to properly care for her infant, leading to the removal of the child from respondent’s custody and to the institution of child protective proceedings against her. While respondent did offer to assist the District Attorney’s office in prosecuting her pimp, the extent and usefulness of that assistance is questionable as the respondent ultimately failed to cooperate with the prosecutor and she misled the Assistant District Attorney about her intention to visit with the program for the purpose of reentering their program.
While the Law Guardian argues that her client is currently willing to accept and cooperate with specialized services, that claimed willingness cannot be considered. Rather, giving proper consideration to respondent’s extensive history, her behavioral pattern, her choice to engage in the “street life”, even at the cost of temporarily losing custody of her own infant child, and her demonstrated lack of sound judgment and maturity, the Court finds that it would be unwise and inappropriate to simply substitute a PINS petition at this stage of the juvenile delinquency proceedings. Greater control over respondent’s movement and self-destructive behavior is required at this time, although with the provision of appropriate services in a controlled setting, an outcome other than an adjudication of juvenile delinquency may be appropriate at some later stage of the proceedings.
Accordingly, respondent’s motion for the substitution of a PINS petition for the juvenile delinquency petition is denied at this time for the reasons set forth herein.