New law on youth sentencing will protect child sex trafficking victims

Child survivors no longer face decades in prison because they attempted to protect themselves against their adult exploiters.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed the “Prevent Unfair Sentencing of Youth Act,” which allows  judges to depart from mandatory minimums or return a victim’s case to juvenile court if they’re survivors of exploitation.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed the “Prevent Unfair Sentencing of Youth Act,” which allows judges to depart from mandatory minimums or return a victim’s case to juvenile court if they’re survivors of exploitation.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Right now, everyone is talking about Mayor Brandon Johnson and his commitment to taking Chicago in a new direction regarding criminal justice. But we must also cast our eyes to Springfield, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly continue their push to make Illinois a better, safer, more fair place for everyone.

With all this movement and momentum happening around us, we want to shine a light on one critically important piece of legislation that was thankfully just signed into law on the final day of June. It’s HB 3414, otherwise known as the “Prevent Unfair Sentencing of Youth Act.”

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Those of us who care deeply about children — especially victims and survivors of sex trafficking — strongly supported this bill. We’re thrilled it is now law here in Illinois.

Sponsored by Rep. Lilian Jiménez and Sen. Mike Simmons, the legislation is significant, as it reforms the criminal legal system to require that judges not only view children as survivors of exploitation, but also consider their experiences, trauma and other mitigating factors when they’re accused of harming their abusers. The new law allows for judicial discretion to depart from mandatory minimums or to return a victim’s case to juvenile court.

Far too often, child survivors have faced decades — or even their whole life — languishing in prison because they attempted to protect themselves against their adult exploiters, be it a trafficker, sex buyer or another abuser.

As a new report by the organization Rights4Girls makes clear, these criminalized survivors endure an abuse to prison pipeline in which they are incarcerated for acts of self-defense and protection, instead of being seen and treated as child victims of crime.

We’re ecstatic that Illinois is helping lead the way to end this terrible cycle of abuse, violence and imprisonment. It represents significant progress in the wake of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, showing that we aren’t merely playing lip service to these issues as hashtags.

Instead, we’re working to bring about meaningful change here for thousands of survivors who are disproportionately girls and young women of color. This new law will accomplish precisely what the act says in the title: Preventing the unfair sentencing of youth.

With Pritzker’s pen, this much-needed reform is now reality, and we are firmer on the path toward true criminal justice. We sincerely hope other states will soon follow Illinois’ lead.

Yasmin Vafa, executive director, Rights4Girls
Brenda Myers Powell, author, activist and survivor leader

Foreign aid is good business

In the ever-evolving landscape of global affairs, one thing remains clear: Foreign aid is not just an act of goodwill; it is also a smart business strategy. Some may question its effectiveness or label it as an unnecessary expense, but the truth is that foreign aid has the potential to bring significant economic benefits to businesses here in the U.S.

As nations progress in their development, there is an increased demand for products and services, which has a direct impact on American job creation. U.S. exports to Africa, Asia and Latin America contribute significantly to job opportunities, with a total of 11.5 million jobs supported by these exports in 2015.

These figures highlight the positive economic impact of increased trade and exports to developing countries on U.S. employment opportunities. This mutually beneficial cycle also has obvious positive impacts on the U.S. economy.

Foreign aid isn’t just about lending a helping hand. By investing in infrastructure, education and healthcare in recipient countries, foreign aid creates an environment that fosters economic growth and stability.

Calling upon our congressional leaders to protect the international affairs budget, which includes funding for foreign aid, is essential to maintain our nation’s standing, forge diplomatic ties and secure economic opportunities for American businesses.

Carmen Tucker, Rogers Park

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