How much do you know about human sex trafficking? According to the United States Department of Justice website over the past three years there has been a nearly 30% increase in human trafficking cases in the US alone. Most victims are between the ages of twelve to fourteen. Child exploitation most recently made the headlines with Operation Cross Country. The nationwide operation which took place over the weekend resulted in 150 arrests, with 105 children between the ages of 13 and 17 being rescued.(source CNN: Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.)
Why are we seeing such a dramatic increase in the US?Poverty is one major factor that plays into the tragic stories of children being sexually exploited, among many other traumatic factors putting them in this position such as divorce, absentee parents ,lack of role models, death of a parent or neglect. Many victims of human trafficking in the US are teen aged girls between the ages of thirteen and sixteen with little or no family ties. However, research shows trafficking can occur in any city where a family may lose touch with their own children. Teenagers without guidance, supervision or those testing the limits of their independence are at risk for criminal manipulation.
When does it become trafficking?Sex trafficking occurs when the trafficker or pimp uses physical force, coercion and fraud to maintain control over an adult victim. Victims are forced to engage in sex acts to earn their right to stay alive. When the individual providing sex is under the age of 18, excessive threats, abuse, use of force and coercion do not need to happen for the situation to be considered trafficking. Sex trafficking like all other types of abuse is about power, control and human greed. Gangs especially regard sex trafficking as a lucrative business because victims are reused again and again or recycled. Victims are considered a low risk "product". Criminals never see your children as defenseless, innocent human beings but as another money making product on the level of illegal drugs or weapons. What is used to control and exploit a sex trafficking victim?
Force – Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission. They are typically confined to a residence; restricted in movement and communication to their guardians, loved ones and friends.
Fraud – Lies and promises of a better life through the trafficker acting as a boyfriend or protective figure; convincing the victim that law enforcement and social service providers will only see the victim as a "prostitute" and will have them arrested rather than saved and assisted. The victim is essentially brainwashed.
Coercion – A trafficker will use threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family. They will use psychological threats to shame the victim by revealing they had sex for money to his or her family and others in their community. Verbal and emotional abuse, confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents and sexual quotas bring about forced dependency on the controller. Exploitation of victims shame or low self-esteem is a common power play technique. Having a victim witness excessive violence of others at the hands of traffickers, reward and punishment and threats of deportation if a victim is a foreign national are used to dominate and control.
Law enforcement agencies across the country have identified online sex ads as the number one platform for buying and selling of sex with young women and children some as young as four and five years of age. Astonishingly enough the majority of the ads were posted on websites such as Craigslist.com and Backpage.com. Ads for massage parlors and escort services are carefully scrutinized.
What can you do right now? Check your child's own social media websites. Who are they talking to or befriending? What websites are they looking at? Who are they texting? Who do they hang around with at school? Are they attending school or skipping class? If they work part time who are they associating with at work? Where are they after school? Children and teenagers who have a trusted and secure relationship with their parents are least likely to hide information from them. When you recognize that a child may be in danger or exploited speak up, speak out and do what you can to assist them. Children and young adult sex trafficking victims may feel too intimidated and frightened to speak for themselves. The youngest victims may have little or no way to articulate or comprehend why adults would hurt and brutalized them. If you have or work with children or simply care about your own community, a child's sense of safety and security should be a priority. The link below offers insightful and educational material for yourself, your family and especially your own children with 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking http://www.state.gov/j/tip/id/help/