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At long last, Maryland joins most other states in passing ‘safe harbor’ law for child victims of sex and human trafficking

Maryland Senate in session in Annapolis.
Matt Bush
Maryland Senate in session in Annapolis.

Supporters had long sought to make Maryland a ‘safe harbor’ state for child victims of sex and human trafficking. They got close in 2022, when both chambers passed differing versions of a bill, but that then failed in conference committee on the final day lawmakers were in session. A new year, new lawmakers and a new governor got it across the finish line in 2023, meaning this fall, Maryland will join close to 40 other states in passing a safe harbor law.

Child victims will no longer face criminal charges for a variety of crimes in Maryland starting October 1st under SB292/HB297, which Governor Wes Moore signed into law May 16th. Montgomery County Senator Jeff Waldstreicher is one of the sponsors of the Senate bill. He says the changes give victims a chance to leave trafficking behind.

“Criminal records can ruin their entire lives,” he told WYPR. “Prevent them from getting the education they deserve, the housing they need, or services that will help them get out of the cycle of human trafficking.” The legislative analysis of the bills cite a University of Maryland SAFE Center for Human Trafficking Survivors study, which found from between June 2013 and April 2020, 671 reports of suspected child sex trafficking that were screened by Child Protective Service units in Maryland. The center also found ‘110 youths were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice in Maryland between 2010 and 2020, including 33 arrests of individuals ages 15 or younger.’

The ‘qualifying offenses’ which victims can not be charged starting October 1st are:

  • unnatural or perverted sexual practice
  • possessing or administering a controlled dangerous substance
  • possessing or purchasing a noncontrolled substance
  • possessing or distributing controlled paraphernalia
  • fourth-degree burglary
  • a trespass offense
  • malicious destruction of property in the lesser degree
  • misdemeanor theft
  • misdemeanor obtaining property or services by bad check
  • possession or use of a fraudulent government identification document
  • public assistance fraud
  • false statement to a law enforcement officer or public official
  • disturbing the public peace and disorderly conduct
  • indecent exposure
  • prostitution under § 11-303 of the Criminal Law Article
  • driving with a suspended registration
  • failure to display registration
  • driving without a license
  • failure to display license to police
  • possession of a suspended license
  • driving while privilege is canceled, suspended, refused, or revoked
  • owner failure to maintain security on a vehicle
  • driving while uninsured
  • prostitution or loitering as prohibited under local law
Matt Bush spent 14 years in public radio prior to coming to WYPR as news director in October 2022. From 2008 to 2016, he worked at Washington D.C.’s NPR affiliate, WAMU, where he was the station’s Maryland reporter. He covered the Maryland General Assembly for six years (alongside several WYPR reporters in the statehouse radio bullpen) as well as both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. @MattBushMD
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