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Efforts in trafficking work to rehabilitate the child, not punish

Human trafficking is a hot-button issue in many communities, and Kansas officials are responding to the increased attention focused on this topic. The state of Kansas has now classified the Wichita Children's Home as an official shelter for victims of human trafficking; that change was in response to statistics indicating that human-trafficking cases nearly tripled in Sedgwick County in 2013. In all, police in the area investigated 29 cases in 2013, compared to just 10 in 2012. Further, 29 victims were identified in 2013.

In the past, human-trafficking victims were usually sent to juvenile detention centers, even though they did not necessarily commit juvenile crimes. Now, though, a new human-trafficking law is requiring the state to choose a primary designated shelter. Now, trafficking victims will be kept out of the juvenile law system in many cases. Children might also be sent into foster care after a human-trafficking investigation, or they could even be released to their family members, depending on the circumstances.

Some state officials say that human-trafficking cases are notoriously difficult to resolve because young victims are hesitant to testify against those who have been abusing them. Further, children might not receive the benefits they need from the Children's Home, as that facility may not be financially prepared to handle the influx of residents. Administrators say they are working hard to promote sustainable funding and social change through the center, which has been a mainstay in Sedgwick County since the 1800s.

Many of the human-trafficking changes are focused on decriminalizing the victims of this abuse; in some instances, children have been charged with juvenile crimes such as prostitution, when they were in fact the victims of an abuser. Instead of treating the victims like criminals, authorities are now pointing these young people in a safer direction.

Young people who find themselves facing criminal charges after being forced into sex work by a human-trafficking abuser may benefit from the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney. Those professionals can serve as advocates and allies for victims who may not have anywhere else to turn. With increased state support for human-trafficking victims, the future for these young people may soon begin to brighten.

Source: NewsTimes.com, "Kan. home named shelter for trafficking victims" Ror Wenzl and Stan Finger, Jan. 11, 2014

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