We see the term "child prostitute" used every day. But there is no such thing. There are many children who are repeatedly raped and trafficked for sex.
More than 1,000 children are arrested on prostitution or prostitution-related charges in the U.S. and placed in juvenile detention facilities every year.
I am not denying that our nation has a problem when it comes to juveniles in the sex trade. But the problem is not "child prostitution." The problem is our failure to protect our children, particularly our girls.
Again: there is no such thing as a child prostitute. There are only children who are victims of sex trafficking, preyed upon by unconscionable people who want to make a business out of their bodies, out of their vulnerability.
And who do we punish for this situation? The victims -- our children.
Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), U.S. federal law holds that any person under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is a victim of trafficking in persons. The law is clear that there is no such thing as a child prostitute.
But in practice, most states are still enforcing outdated and restrictive local laws that punish the victims instead of the real culprits, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of trafficked children on prostitution-related charges. Only 12 states have adopted laws that discourage the detention of children for prostitution, but these rarely meet the federal standards.
For over a decade, the United States has been a leading voice in the global fight against human trafficking, including sex slavery. Since 2001, the federal government has produced a comprehensive Trafficking in Persons report that details the scope and nature of human trafficking around the world, as well as on the efforts underway to confront and eliminate it.
We lead the fight against this horrendous crime abroad, but we fail the children who are its victims here on our soil.
No child should pay the price of a broken system. We owe our children an environment in which they can flourish, and where law enforcement, the justice system, and society as offers them a fresh start, not a jail cell.
We cannot afford not to right this gross injustice in our nation. As my father, Robert Kennedy, once said, "These are our responsibilities. If we cannot meet them, we must ask ourselves what kind of a country we really are; we must ask ourselves what we really stand for. We must act -- and we must act now."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Rights4Girls in conjunction with The McCain Institute. Join us in our campaign No Such Thing--that there is no such thing as child prostitute, only victims and survivors or child rape. For more information on No SuchThing, read here.