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Bipartisan bill to address ‘abuse-to-prison-pipeline’ awaits Youngkin’s signature

Del. Vivian Watts holds information related to her bipartisan effort to protect child victims of human trafficking.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
Del. Vivian Watts holds information related to her bipartisan effort to protect child victims of human trafficking.

Combating human trafficking has been a priority for Governor Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares. And while the administration has been dinging Democrats for not supporting GOP-backed bills, at least one measure to address the issue passed with unanimous support.

Northern Virginia Delegate Vivian Watts said she’s been working on this bill for a decade, but this was the first year it passed — and it notably passed with unanimous support in both chambers.

It would allow courts to take into account the circumstances of juvenile trafficking victims if they’re charged with harming their abuser or a related offense. It’s designed to offer some protection to children who have been victimized, for example, after they’ve run away from home and ended up in even more legal trouble.

“They’re naive, and they’re really preyed upon by somebody who strokes and is their friend until they have them under [their] control," Watts told Radio IQ. "And then they are used more brutally than before.”

Yasmin Vafa is the founder of Rights4Girls, a national group that aims to support human trafficking victims. She said bills like Watts’ are part of a new wave of efforts across the country to make it easier for victims to get out of the ‘abuse-to-prison’ pipeline.

“It really emphasizes rehabilitation and healing for those kids but again, accountability," Vafa stressed. "It’s not a get out of jail free card.”

Vafa said other states have implemented similar laws and they've helped keep child victims out of negative cycles, especially victims that are members of minority groups.

“If we don’t implement some of the more trauma informed, developmentally appropriate approaches, it's youth of color who bear the brunt of the harm,” she added.

Watt’s bill is currently awaiting a signature from Governor Youngkin. He’s got until April 8th to act.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Corrected: March 26, 2024 at 4:33 PM EDT
Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.