Young female, possibly a teenager possibly an adult, lounges in a circular window (image picture regarding mistake of age defense)
October 15, 2019

When It Comes to Sex Trafficking, “Mistake of Age” Defenses Put Children at Risk

Adult men are purchasing children for sex in America every day. The least we can do is stop them from saying they did not know what they were doing using “mistake of age” defenses.

States can pass legislation prohibiting traffickers and buyers from claiming they did not know, or were mistaken, about the age of the child they bought or sold. Such legislation would go a long way towards protecting children, often the most vulnerable members of our society, and decreasing the demand for child sex trafficking.

“Mistake of Age” defenses make prosecuting trafficking related crimes even more difficult than they already are. State and local prosecutors face a multitude of challenges such as a lack of law enforcement education and training in sex trafficking, victim unavailability or lack of cooperation, witness unavailability or lack of cooperation, and ambiguity in the law. After suffering sexual abuse at the hands of adults—oftentimes trusted adults and even family members—these child victims are very often unable or unwilling to testify. They are afraid of their abusers and reliving the events is harrowing and can result in re-victimization. Prosecutors face enormous challenges in meeting their burden of proof to establish that a perpetrator has trafficked a child without also having to rebut evidence that the trafficker or buyer thought the child was an adult. Such a defense serves only to shield traffickers while increasing the burden on prosecutors.

Furthermore, the incentives created by such defenses are contrary to decades of work to combat trafficking and protect children.

For example, in the case of a buyer who is being prosecuted for sex trafficking of a child or for soliciting a minor for prostitution, the way a “mistake of age” defense works is as follows: The buyer would be permitted at trial to present evidence that, although he did indeed pay to have sex with a child, he reasonably believed the child to be an adult. Now why would a state provide such a defense? What are the policy motivations? In short: to protect sex buyers. To make sure that sex buyers are not punished too harshly for buying children for sex if they reasonably made a mistake as to the child’s age. It relieves the buyer of the burden to ensure the person they are purchasing for sex is not a child, or to refrain from the activity altogether rather than take the risk of sexually abusing a child. This, in effect, incentivizes buyers not to ask the age of the person they are purchasing and emboldens them to risk buying sex from minors because they have strong defenses against prosecution available to them.

“Mistake of Age” defenses offend all of the work being done around the country to combat demand to sex trafficking and prioritize adult offenders over child victims in child sex trafficking cases.

The National Center on Sexual exploitation urges every state to pass legislation prohibiting so called “mistake of age” defenses for perpetrators of child sex trafficking and related offenses such as, soliciting a child for prostitution, buying a commercial sex act from a minor, promoting prostitution of a minor, and commercial exploitation of a minor. Our Law Center has a model statute that is almost ready to bring to your legislature. Please join us in advocating for victims, ending demand, and eradicating sexual exploitation.

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Dani Pinter

Dani Pinter, NCOSE Law Center Legal Counsel

Legal Counsel for NCOSE Law Center

Dani Pinter serves as Legal Counsel for NCOSE and its Law Center. In this role, she drafts and consults on state legislation to help unravel the complex web of sexual exploitation. Dani also serves as a voice for human dignity in precedent-setting legal cases by authoring legal briefs and providing research and advice to attorneys and will launch litigation on behalf of victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. Dani speaks regularly on a variety of exploitation topics, with a special focus protecting youth in a digital age and on legal solutions to curb the demand for prostituted and sex trafficked individuals.

Dani Pinter originally joined the NCOSE Law Center at its inception in August of 2015. Dani was instrumental in reinvigorating the law center and traveled the country building relationships and raising awareness. Notably, she drafted the first piece of legislation recognizing the public health impacts of  pornography. This innovative piece of legislation has since been adopted in more than a dozen states. Dani also authored a key legal brief in a case involving a child predator who claimed a constitutional right to find children online and talk to them about sex in an arousing and exploitive manner. Her legal brief helped convince the Georgia Supreme Court to rule against the child predator and shut down the agenda of pro-child exploitation forces to go state by state trying to toss out such laws. 

In 2016. Dani moved back to her home state of Florida to start a family and there joined the State of Florida’s Department of Children and Families as a Senior Attorney in Children’s Legal Services. In that role, Dani litigated cases involving child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. She worked tirelessly to serve the children and families in need in her home state. During this time, Dani saw first-hand the devastation that sexual abuse inflicts on children and families and the cycle of abuse and trauma it creates. 

Throughout her time with Children’s Legal Services, Dani brought the knowledge she gained from NCOSE to every one of her cases. She could not help but note the policy changes and education that were needed in this field. So, when an opportunity to work with NCOSE again arose – Dani seized it without hesitation. Dani rejoined the NCOSE law center in 2019 as Legal Counsel splitting her time between DC and Florida. 

Dani has always had a passion for human rights issues especially those affecting women and children. This passion is what led her to Regent University School of Law. Upon acceptance, Dani received the Wilberforce Award, a full academic scholarship for those with human rights interests. While at Regent, Dani was in the Honors Program, a member of the Moot Court Board, the Journal of Global Justice and Public Policy, and the Student Bar Association. During her studies Dani interned with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution.

Prior to law school Dani worked as a government relations intern for multiple DC policy organizations and graduated from the University of Central Florida with dual degrees in Psychology and Marketing.

Dani now resides with her husband and two children in Florida.

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