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Lawmakers seek to end penalties for youth in prostitution

January 31, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Children who are subjected to prostitution won’t be treated as criminals under legislation being considered by the state Legislature.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, proposes changing state law so that prostitution would no longer be considered a punishable offense or delinquent act for New Mexico youth. The committee passed the proposal on Wednesday.

The state’s children’s code currently lists prostitution among numerous offenses for which juveniles can be arrested and taken into custody.

Under the measure, the Children Youth and Families Department would instead refer children and teens younger than 18 to community-based services. The youth would be connected with counseling and housing services, Chasey said. The bill does not define the scope of those services.

“A child below the age of 18 is below the age of consent,” Chasey said. “So how can that child be consenting to prostitution when she really is a victim of human trafficking?”

Advocates for the measure told lawmakers that similar proposals have passed in other states amid a push nationwide to treat youth forced into prostitution as victims.

A National Conference of State Legislatures review shows most states in 2016 approved bills to address human trafficking among youth. The laws typically are referred to as “safe-harbor laws.”

Analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee said the bill may result in law enforcement officers needing more training to identify juveniles who are victims of human trafficking.

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