Danisha Moore, TPPP Practicum Student, January 29, 2019
Through the Eyes of a Survivor: Danesha
Danesha was fourteen years old when she was kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking. Throughout adolescence, Danesha was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. In hope that her mother would empathize, she shared her traumatic experiences, but her mother did not understand. Due to these unbearable circumstances, Danesha became an underage prostitute.
A year or so later, Danesha finally escapes the cycle of sex trafficking. After studying the streets, Danesha was able to communicate with the police. With the help of law enforcement, Danesha was relieved from the life of trafficking. Although Danesha escaped trafficking, she did not want to return home nor end up in foster care; so she found herself missing the feeling of being loved. Because she was seeking affection and nurturance, she returned to sex work. However, her experience was rather different this time around; she became pregnant and was arrested several times for prostitution. After spending time in jail, Danesha gave birth to a baby girl who changed her perspective on life, influencing her decision to flee prostitution and become the best mother for her daughter. You can hear Danesha’s story on the YouTube channel Not for Sale.
Changes to State Statute Proposed in Missouri
Sex trafficking is a global phenomenon, like Danesha, every survivor’s story is unique and may not result in the same ending. A victim’s experience with sex trafficking is deeply affected by experiences with the criminal justice system, including whether the victim is supported or penalized for their involvement in sex work.
In Missouri, victims of sex trafficking can by criminalized and given jail time even for engagement in nonconsensual sexual activity. Victims are required to prove the existence of coercion in order to reduce the risk of being charged for prostitution and receive social services. (See Missouri Statute 567.020)
Consent is an important part of all sexual relationships. Sex trafficking, by its very nature, is not consensual. Although Danesha made a choice to return to prostitution, she was not legally capable of consenting to any sexual activity with adults due to her age. Sexual consent is defined as freely given, verbal, continuous, and an informed agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. In Missouri the age of consent is 17 years old. A child/teen age 16 and younger is not legally able to consent to sexual activity with an adult. An adult who engages in consensual sexual intercourse with a child/teen age 17 or younger is a violation to statutory rape law.
Representative Coleman has introduced House Bill 397 that is currently moving through the Missouri legislature. Current statutes (567.020, 578.421 and 610.131) state that a person under the age of 18 with proof of coercion may be classified as a victim of sex trafficking. However, minor language changes have been made in HB 397; proof of coercion will no longer be required to be classified as a victim of human trafficking if the individual involved is under 18.
Considering it’s difficult to prove any form of coercion without evidence and possibly risks the health and safety of not only the victims but also their families, implementing this minor language change provides victims with an easier path to justice. Victims will be much less likely to be arrested and charged with prostitution but rather have a better chance of escaping the life and retaining the services needed.
TPPP will continue to work with our members and partner organizations to monitor this and other legislation related to adolescent sexual health during the 2019 legislative session in Jefferson City. We hope you will contact us if you need information or support for your advocacy efforts.