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States Do Better Cracking Down On Child Sex Trafficking, Report Says


Now we bring you some good news coming from a nonprofit group that studies the problem of child sex trafficking. A new report being released today finds many U.S. states are doing a better job of halting this crime. NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson, got an exclusive look at the report.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: When the nonprofit group Shared Hope International started evaluating how well states cracked down on child sex trafficking back in 2011, the report card was ugly. Christine Raino directs public policy at Shared Hope.

CHRISTINE RAINO: We have really seen substantial change. That first year, more than half the states had failing grades. And now, five years later, we actually have half the states - more than half the states have A's and B's, and we no longer have any states with failing grades.

JOHNSON: The group tracks how many states have passed criminal laws against trafficking and whether the states punish those who pay for sex with people under age 18. Awareness is starting to grow, Raino says, in part because the FBI works with state and local partners to try to recover children every year in raids like this one in Michigan last month.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Big child sex trafficking sting taking place here in metro Detroit and across the nation.

JOHNSON: Authorities found 19 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 and an even bigger raid in Denver.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A 14-year-old girl has been rescued from her pimp, a local gang member who was trafficking the girl along Colfax Avenue. She is one of 20 children rescued from sex trafficking operations along the Front Range.

JOHNSON: The federal system prohibits minors from being charged with prostitution or other crimes, but that's not the case in many states. Fifteen states now officially treat minors as victims rather than exposing them to prosecution for prostitution. Raino says there's still a long way to go.

RAINO: Looking at victims' protections and victims' access to services and really moving toward the recognition that child sex trafficking victims are not committing a crime, but they're victims.

JOHNSON: The new report from Shared Hope points out that trafficking markets operate on the principle of supply and demand - case in point, the booming oil industry across North Dakota and Montana.

RAINO: What we're hearing is an increasingly urgent problem of sex trafficking. With the oil boom have come many more people into the region and predominately men.

JOHNSON: And those men have had a lot of disposable income. This year, North Dakota boosted protections for survivors of child sex trafficking, and Shared Hope says Montana strengthened its laws, too. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.