The sex-trafficking of U.S. children is America’s dirty, little secret. Trafficked children in the U.S. often are arrested on prostitution charges, thrown into jail and treated like criminals, even though they are minors. Instead of receiving counseling in a safe, supportive residential facility, many are forced to endure the additional trauma of juvenile detention. One reason for this is the lack of training to help law enforcement recognize and assist victims. Only ten states have Safe Harbor Laws to decriminalize underage victims of sexual exploitation. The fewer than 100 shelter beds are available in the U.S. for sex-trafficking victims is a staggering contrast to the FBI estimate that about 100,000 children are sold for sex in our nation.
On average, the trafficking begins when the victim is 13. Pimps often recruit children into sex-trafficking by posing as a boyfriend, caretaker and protector. At this time, the vast majority are sold through classified ads on websites. The adult services ads on the internet offer an accessible means for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, but the truth is that the demand for sex with underage girls precedes the technology. The industry of selling children for sex continues as long as there are buyers.
According to The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children, “children exploited through prostitution report they typically are given a quota by their trafficker/pimp of 10 to 15 buyers per night. Utilizing a conservative estimate, a domestic minor sex-trafficking victim would be raped by 6,000 buyers during the course of her victimization through prostitution.”
Public awareness is only the first step. Children should not be incarcerated for their own exploitation and abuse in any state. We need to immediately correct the conflicts between state and federal law by exempting all children from prosecution for prostitution. The burden of responsibility must fall exclusively on Johns and traffickers.
Yes, we must bear witness to the suffering of trafficking victims and affirm their inherent worth, but we must also enact policies and create resources that will help children break free from sexual exploitation. This requires that we face the disturbing truth that the demand for girls’ bodies is happening in our own communities.
Learn more at Brooke Axtell’s Forbes article: Selling American Girls: The Truth About Domestic Minor Sex-Trafficking.