On January 24, 2024, Steven Boutte, a New Jersey resident, was sentenced to six to twelve years in prison for criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, criminal attempt to commit statutory sexual assault, and unlawful contact with a minor, among other charges, by the Honorable Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. In addition to his sentence, Boutte was ordered to complete an assessment by the Sex Offender Assessment Board.
In December 2022, Boutte began communicating on a social media dating app with an individual whom he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. The child told Boutte her age and that she was a middle school student on several occasions, but Boutte told her numerous times that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her. Boutte then continued to send sexually explicit messages to the victim.
Boutte arranged to meet the child for a sexual encounter in a parking lot in Bensalem on December 13, 2022. This meeting was canceled and Boutte arranged to meet the child again on December 16, 2022. Before the meeting, Boutte drove to the location and texted the child. When Boutte arrived at the location on December 16, 2022, the back seats of his station wagon were folded down. He was arrested upon arrival by detectives from the Bensalem Police Department.
In 2018, Pennsylvania enacted the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Act that made it unequivocally clear that there is “no such thing as a child prostitute.” The Safe Harbor Act created new safeguards for child victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, including creating immunity for certain crimes; directing the Department of Human Services to coordinate specialized services for sexually exploited children, in conjunction with county agencies; and requiring training for law enforcement on how to identify and help victims.
First passed in 2000 and reauthorized four times, the Victims Of Trafficking And Violence Protection Act of 2000, (TVPA), is the cornerstone federal human trafficking legislation. Under the TVPA, the term “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. The exclusion of the requirement of “force, fraud, or coercion” to establish that a person under 18 is a victim of trafficking – or rather, the presumption of coercion – coincides with the principal that a child cannot legally consent to sex and makes it clear that under federal law, any child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of Bensalem Township Police Department, the FBI Child Exploitation & Human Trafficking Task Force, the Pennsylvania Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office for their diligent work on this case and prosecuting these horrific crimes against children. It is critical that the demand for commercial sex acts, especially of children, be treated as a serious crime of violence. Only by targeting the demand for paid sex will the frequency with which individuals are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation be reduced.
The CSE Institute advocates for the adoption of the Equality Model in the United States. The Equality Model consists of four key elements: (1) decriminalization of the prostituted person, (2) criminalization of sex buyers and facilitators with a commitment to treating buying sex as a serious crime, (3) a public education campaign about the inherent harms of prostitution, and (4) funded, robust, holistic exit services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The Equality Model directly targets the demand for buying sex by criminalizing sex buyers and traffickers, while decriminalizing the people who are being bought and sold for commercial sex. The decriminalization of people in prostitution recognizes those who are bought and sold for sex as exploited, not as perpetrators of a crime.
The CSE Institute will continue to provide updates on this matter.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or Villanova University.