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October 31, 2017 Practice Points

Child Abuse Includes Sex Trafficking Under CAPTA

By Bob Murphy

On May 29, 2015, President Obama signed Public Law (P.L.) 114-22, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015. This bill amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) 42 U.S.C. 5106, which provides state grants. The amendment requires that states amend their current definitions of child abuse and neglect to include victims of sex trafficking. Specifically, it requires that states make a finding of "child abuse and neglect" and "sexual abuse" if the child is also found to be a victim of sex trafficking. States who wanted to continue receiving federal funds had two years from May 29, 2015, to make this definition change in their own statutes.

The Administration of Children, Youth and Families, a sub-division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, created an Information Memorandum that details exactly what states must do to ensure compliance and to continue being eligible to receive federal funds. In addition to requiring states to expand their definitions of "child abuse and neglect" and "sexual abuse", states are also required to have provisions and procedures to identify and assess reports of child sex trafficking victims, training CPS workers, and collect and report the number of children who are victims of sex trafficking. 

For instance, Washington State had to amend its criminal code and administrative code (WACs) to incorporate such changes by emergency rule, which had to be updated again recently. (Effective Date: September 22, 2017). 

Child advocates and judges should be proactive in questioning potential child victims to determine if they are sex trafficking victims. Child victims cannot be expected to volunteer such information or recognize that they are victims of sex trafficking. As the recent media campaign "#MeToo" demonstrates, even famous actors/actresses who are victimized show reluctance to come forward out of fear. Practitioners should verify their state codes are in compliance with the amendment to expand the definition of "child abuse and neglect" and "sexual abuse" to include victims of sex trafficking. Practitioners should also determine whether child protection workers, other agencies such as criminal prosecutors, and courts are ensuring that victims of sex trafficking are being properly classified.

Bob Murphy is an administrative law judge for the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings.  He was formerly a juvenile judge in Oklahoma.

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