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Voices from the Bench: Judicial Perspectives on Handling Child Sex Trafficking Cases

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Domestic Child Sex Trafficking (DCST) is a form of human trafficking and a complex problem in the United States. DCST refers to the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a minor for the purpose of a commercial sex act. Historically, the juvenile justice system has viewed and treated survivors of DCST as delinquent youth. However, as courts have learned about the risk factors of early childhood trauma and adolescent brain development, they have started to respond to trafficked children as victims, not criminals. Courts across the country are implementing victim-centered approaches to exploited and trafficked children. Some jurisdictions have created specialty DCST (also referred to as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children or CSEC) courts, while others have modified court practices and implemented trauma-informed and responsive protocols.

All of these changes reflect the recognition that treating exploited children as offenders has prevented the courts from intervening in ways that effectively and safely help these children be children and become emotionally healthy. This Technical Assistance Bulletin (TAB) describes what judges have learned from their experiences handling DCST cases and implementing victim-centered approaches. It also serves as a practical reference source for juvenile and family court judges interested in improving outcomes in these challenging cases. It is our hope judges will use the information emerging from the field to improve their DCST practices and handling of these cases.