01/17/2011 04:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Justice FAIL: Lawrence Taylor Walks Free

In a courthouse in New York, former NFL star Lawrence Taylor pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct and paying a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim for sex. In return, the ex-linebacker received a misdemeanor charge that carries no jail time though he will be put on probation and a sex offender list.

Prosecutor Patricia Gunning said this plea deal was "acceptable" in part because Taylor had assisted with other human trafficking investigations.

With all due respect to the prosecutor, there should be no room for acceptance in our civil society for men who buy sex with girls.

Criminals that feed demand and harm our children should face harsh penalties equal to the harsh and unimaginable abuse child sex trafficking victims suffer.

The 16-year-old girl Taylor abused is one of up to 300,000 children trafficked for sex in America every year. According to police reports, the victim was physically forced into the sex trade by her trafficker, Rasheed Davis, who posted ads for the girl online.

The account given to the police of what happened at a Ramapo hotel on that dark night in May paints a grim picture of what happens to thousands of girls every day across our country. The victim was allegedly beaten and forced into the car Davis used to deliver her to Taylor. She then had to suffer through the humiliation and violence of an unwanted sexual experience that will undoubtedly remain with her for far too long.

For his role in this crime, it was initially reported that Taylor could face up to four years in jail after being charged with third-degree rape of a child. Now he walks free and returns to his home in Florida.

We need to send a clear message to prosecutors and judges that trafficking would not continue to flourish if we held the buyers more accountable.

It's time as a nation we get serious about diminishing demand.

Last year, Women's Funding Network, in partnership with A Future. Not A Past. -- a campaign in Georgia to address and prevent sex trafficking of teen girls in the state -- released results from a pilot study that measured the demand for adolescent girls prostituted in Georgia.

The Georgia Demand Study estimated that annually, 28,000 men statewide knowingly or as Taylor claims, unknowingly, pay for sex with adolescent females -- nearly 10,000 of them doing so multiple times per year.

In covertly questioning the men who responded to decoy ads placed online, 47 percent of the callers wanted to continue with the "transaction," despite three warnings that the girl they requested was under-age.

While our data in the demand study focused on one state, we know that men all over the country are making sex trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, one of the fastest growing businesses in America.

Women's Funding Network's state-by-state media tracking report found that in 2010, at least 160 total cases were reported in 41 states and the District of Columbia. The average age of the girl victimized in cases reported was between 14 and 15 years old and at least 47 of the 160 cases -- 30 percent -- involved trafficking girls via the internet and 20 percent of the cases involved

Like all complex social justice issues, the road to combating domestic minor sex trafficking is long but the strategies for addressing this growing national tragedy are clear:
  • provide resources to law enforcement to increase arrests;
  • prosecute both the traffickers and especially the predators that create demand and ensure their penalties match the heft of their crime;
  • decriminalize girls who are trafficked and adequately fund programs that provide them with care, protection and services for their rescue and restoration;
  • and create a legislative response to claims by websites that their conduct is immune from local and state law enforcement.

We must also hold businesses, such as Village Voice Media Holdings, accountable for their website that allows the placement of ads which clearly advertise children for sale. As a reflection on Martin Luther King Day, and as a nation that values civil and human rights, let's pledge to create a zero tolerance zone for buying and selling our children for sex.

Please join our national movement to address one of the starkest human rights issues of our time. Girls are being bought and sold against their will throughout America every day and we are honor-bound to act to protect them.

Legal and social acceptance of this crime that so horrifically victimizes our children must no longer be an option.

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