Did you know that in North Carolina, if a girl under 18 is caught having sex for money, not only is she charged with a sex crime, she’s charged as an adult? Despite being a child (or, in this case, having the “mental capacity of a 9-year-old“) and clearly being the victim, even in a sex trafficking incident, that minor can be tried as an adult due to the lack of age restriction in the state’s prostitution laws?
Last July, 20-year-old Alexandra Berte went missing from her home in Wilmington, NC. Despite being a special needs student with the mental capacity of a child, it was extremely difficult for her mother, Laura Berte, to convince police officers to put her on the missing persons list. Finally, one actually helped her by placing Alexandra on the list, which was extremely fortunate because, as Laura states, “had she not been put on that, she might still be on the road.” Not too longer after being put on the missing persons list, Alexandra and several other girls were pulled over in a car filled with several gift cards, phones, and a bit of pot.
Sadly, Alexandra had been listed on backpage.com, a common website to advertise “adult services” ever since Craigslist opted to stop their adult section two years ago. Not only had she been advertised for sex, she had clearly been frequently moved around: in just five weeks, she was listed in at least five states. Since “pimping” isn’t considered a crime necessarily, sex workers get hit with charges instead and lo and behold, she was charged with a federal sex crime. Why? Because North Carolina is fucking ridiculous.
Given that her daughter is a special needs student and therefore most certainly a victim of human trafficking, especially when you consider that according to some statistics, nearly 40% of disabled women report being sexually assaulted, Laura Berte is upset at these events:
My daughter’s not a criminal. She doesn’t have the mental capacity to come up with this idea on her own. This is bigger than her and bigger than most people in this community know, and it’s happening right underneath our noses… It is scary and there’s a perception out there—in this community, in society—that girls of this age are making the choice. You know, that needs to be changed. My daughter would have never chosen this as a career. And I just feel there are many, many girls out there that are in similar circumstances that are high risk environments that can be prey.
Two things are obviously here: North Carolina needs to change its absurd laws on sex trafficking and North Carolina needs to change its absurd attitude toward those with special needs, particularly when this really is a quite clear case of “inability to legally consent.” Treating the developmentally disabled as criminals and locking them up while virtually high fiving the exploiters by letting them 100% responsibility-free will do nothing but encourage trafficking in your state, thereby wrecking more lives.