Court rules child prostitutes victims, not criminals

June 23, 2010 3:56:40 AM PDT
The case of a 13-year-old Harris County girl charged with soliciting sex made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. The justices ruled that the girl, as well as any other child prostitute, is not a criminal, but rather a victim. It's one of the only cases of its kind in the country, and the ruling could help thousands of children and teens across the state.

Teen prostitution is encountered daily at a teen crisis center in the Montrose area, and employees there say the new ruling means that teen prostitutes will no long be victimized by the courts.

As the sun sets, Michael Blockson sets out. He routinely cruises the streets looking for teens in crisis, a population Blockson says has not diminished in the nearly 30 years of Covenant House's existence.

"What it will do is keep the minors out of the criminal justice system," Blockson said. "It'll also give them the self-esteem thinking that, hey I'm a victim here, and I'm not going to be victimized twice."

Covenant House is a crisis center for teens to get their life together and away from drug, prostitution and other crimes. The recent state Supreme Court ruling is seen as a positive step for a vulnerable population. The case involved a 13-year-old girl arrested and convicted in Harris County for prostitution. The high court's ruling, says the girls' appeals attorney, means child prostitutes are victims, not criminals.

"All of us recognized that this was a child that was in need of help," appeals lawyer Ann Johnson said. "But the distinction was, do we throw her on a prosecution train or do we throw her on a protection train?"

Laws already exist to prohibit juveniles from consenting to sex. However, the law now applies to prostitution.

"I think that's to prevent sexual exploitation of teenagers by adult offenders," said Dan McCrory with the Harris County District Attorney's Office appellate division.

It's a distinction one teen knows about. She was forced to have sex as a child and recognizes the new law means new hope for teen victims.

"I felt hopeless as I got older," said the teen, who ABC13 isn't identifying. "Then that's when my faith started to get stronger and stronger."

That teen is one of more than 4,500 teens helped by the Covenant House last year.

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