TRENTON – Legislation intended to protect sexually exploited minors has been signed into law. The measure (A-3700-3934) will provide an affirmative defense to any person under 18 who engages in prostitution. An affirmative defense is an explanation for a defendant’s actions that excuses or justifies his behavior.
The law intends to address situations where minors are charged criminally as a result of being a victim of sexual abuse. Currently, a person is afforded an affirmative defense to a charge of prostitution only if the person is a victim of human trafficking.
“This law strengthens our current laws so that children who have been exploited are not only protected, but will receive the care they need,” said Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex/Union). “These children fell prey to horrendous circumstances and unscrupulous individuals. We must ensure children who have been sexually exploited are treated as victims and are provided with appropriate services, including shelter, care, counseling and crisis intervention services.”
The law also requires that care services be provided for sexually exploited juveniles charged with prostitution or juvenile victims of human trafficking. The law amends various sections of the current juvenile code to ensure these services are rendered.
“Most of these children escaped an abusive environment only to find themselves in another one even worse. Turning them into criminals for unspeakable acts being done to them doesn’t serve justice,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). “These children were failed by those entrusted with their safety. It is our responsibility to rectify the injustices committed against them.”
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