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Texas Bill Spotlights Minors Charged With Prostitution

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

One Texas senator wants to allow more counties to set up specialty courts for minors charged with prostitution. The aim is to help juveniles forced into sex trafficking. Many of these victims either end up in Texas or travel through the state along major highways. 

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, says the majority of minors involved in prostitution are sex trafficking victims.

Sen. Van de Putte is the author of Senate Bill 92. It’s up for debate today in the House Judiciary Committee.

If it becomes law, the bill would allow juvenile probation departments in Texas to set up programs specifically to treat minors charged with prostitution. These specialty courts would not hand out a punishment, but instead require treatment and probation.

Judge Angela Ellis often decides cases that go through the Harris County GIRLS, or Growing Independence Restoring Lives, Court.

"So it takes a lot of months of therapy for the child to work through the fact that the perpetrator is not a loved one," Jude Ellis said. "The other big challenge is, it’s very difficult for family members to comprehend the magnitude of the abuse that their child has endured.

Many of these cases don’t have easy answers. Parents are often angry that their child ran away from home and many of these young people are addicted to drugs.

Ann Johnson is a human trafficking specialist. She’s a Harris County assistant district attorney. She supports the bill.

"This is an important role that the juvenile justice and criminal justice system can play in trying to get them the most effective and efficient treatment, recognizing their victimization," Johnson said. "And also trying to shut that door of someone being brought in and out of the criminal justice system."

These kinds of specialty court programs allow minors to get the charge off their juvenile record if they finish probation, which usually lasts about a year.

But experts say the courts require resources. Judges and probation officers need to get trained to understand the kind of trauma these minors have been through. But if these youths don’t get treatment, they say taxpayers will continue to deal with consequences, including drug addiction and domestic violence.