Wisconsin Safe Harbor Bill, where are you?

Katie Pulvermacher, News Editor

Katie Pulvermacher / Advance-Titan

If I say Senate Bill 245, can you tell me what bill this is? Probably not. Senate Bill 245 is also known as the Safe Harbor Bill, which the Wisconsin government, as well as its citizens, should be working on passing.

Safe Harbor grants “child victims of sex trafficking immunity from prosecution for prostitution charges,” according to Fight To End Exploitation (FEE).

The FEE classifies itself as a 501 (c)(3) organization and collaborative network that advocates for human trafficking victims while educating the community. Formerly known as Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, FEE is a “recognized leader against human trafficking.”

The organization started in Racine, Wisconsin with the Racine Dominicans and their fight against human trafficking.

It is important to understand laws relating to sex trafficking.

If an adult sexually assaults or rapes a minor, that adult can be charged with sexual assault or rape of a minor. But, in Wisconsin, if an adult pays to have sex with a minor, that adult is only charged with solicitation.

While Wisconsin law says minors cannot give consent, if money is involved, it does say that a minor can get charged with prostitution. That is not the only thing that contradicts federal law.

According to FEE, current Wisconsin state law contradicts the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which “treats coerced children as victims, even if they have engaged in criminal prostitution activity,” but removes the ability to charge victims of child sex trafficking with prostitution. It does not legalize child prostitution.

We have a chance to change this contradiction by passing the Safe Harbor Bill. There was a public hearing in the state senate on Sept. 23 regarding the bill.

FEE’s Executive Director Melania Brostowitz attended the public hearing and wrote a letter to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

“Under federal law, a child under eighteen who is induced into providing commercial sex is a victim of trafficking and must be treated as such,” Brostowitz said in the letter. “Essentially, there is no such thing as a child prostitute.”

When Minnesota passed the Safe Harbor Law in 2011, which went into effect in 2014, convictions of sex traffickers quadrupled, as children were more likely to testify against their abusers.

“This feels like it should be a bipartisan no-brainer, but it’s Wisconsin,” Founder and Chief Content Creator of As Goes Wisconsin Kristin Brey said.

According to Shared Hope International, 31 states have already passed similar legislation to this, so where is ours? According to FEE, there were 99 substantiated reports to the Department of Children and Families of child sex trafficking in a recent 15 month period. Half of these cases occurred in Milwaukee, while the other half occurred throughout the rest of the state.

It has taken over six years to get this bill to the Senate. If you live in Wisconsin or another state that does not have similar legislation passed, contact your state senators and let them know of your support for Senate Bill 245: the Safe Harbor Bill.