Gaps in Maryland, Virginia and District laws have prevented officials from effectively protecting children from sex traffickers and prosecuting those who abuse them, according to a national report released Thursday.
The report card issued by Shared Hope International, an anti-sex-trafficking nonprofit, gave D.C. and the commonwealth an F for the second year in a row. Maryland was given a D, a slight improvement over the F it received in the 2011.
Few states received high marks in the report, which critiques sex trafficking laws by how well they help identify and protect sex trafficking victims and how effectively prosecutors can pursue cases against buyers and traffickers within broken criminal justice systems, according to the nonprofit.
Virginia received the lowest ranking in the Washington region and one of the lowest scores in the country -- only Maine, California, Hawaii and Wyoming received worse marks.
That's because the commonwealth is one of several states that have no laws specifically on human trafficking or sex trafficking, according to Christine Raino, policy counsel for Shared Hope International. To prosecute sex trafficking cases, Virginia officials rely on the state's abduction law, which doesn't recognize minors as victims except in cases where force, intimidation or deception are used, Raino said.
"Psychological manipulation and intimidation that's involved wouldn't necessarily qualify as deception or force," she said.
The District's laws on prostitution don't distinguish between minors and adults, and the city hasn't provided officials with the legal advantages needed to halt the growing trend of Internet sex trafficking, Raino said.
Maryland officials amended their definition of abuse under their child welfare statutes to include specific language about child sexual exploitation victims, earning them a higher grade, according to Raino. But the state can still improve its protective services for victims, she said.
Numerous bill have been passed in recent years helping to clarify laws protecting victims of sex trafficking, according to Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley.
"Quite candidly, we're taking steps to chip away at this serious issue but there is still so much more that needs to be done," she said.
The D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force meets monthly, according to Bill Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, giving prosecutors a chance to work with police to improve enforcement and prosecutions.
The Virginia Attorney General's Office dismissed the rankings. In a meeting with Shared Hope officials in December 2011, spokesman Brian Gottstein said the nonprofit agreed Virginia's laws contain all the elements necessary to prosecute human trafficking crimes. That the state should receive such a low grade is "absurd," Gottstein said.