Need for Communities to Come Together in Multi-Faceted Fight Against Human Trafficking

The Bill Wilson Center is part of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, a group of human services and law-enforcement agencies working together to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Vulnerable youth, especially those on the run, are often preyed upon by pimps. Studies show that runaways are often identified and targeted by pimps within 48 hours of hitting the streets. Runaway programs need to learn how keep young people safe and must work with local law enforcement when commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) seek help from runaway shelters.

Not all victims are underage girls; underage boys, transgender youth, and transition-age homeless youth, just over age 18, are also at high-risk of trafficking. Many pimps recruit “just barely” 18-year-olds exiting foster care or on the street into prostitution. Without family to care for them, these young people can be even more isolated and more at-risk of victimization.

Communities are beginning to understand that a coordinated approach is needed to help victims of human trafficking. Law enforcement, rape crisis centers, domestic violence programs, runaway shelters, street outreach efforts and foster care agencies are working together to develop agreements and best practices to help victims reintegrate into the community and return to families, foster care or other safe housing.

The National Center for Youth Law recently issued the report, “Ending the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California.” It includes recommendations for tackling the problem, noting that these victims are better served in other settings outside of the juvenile justice system. However, there are fewer than 100 beds across the nation for young people in programs that have been specifically designed for children who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, according to a 2011 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

With few alternatives currently available, we must continue to develop services and support systems designed for the emergency and long-term care of children who are trafficked for labor or sexual purposes, especially for children who cannot be reunited with their families. We can’t allow homeless youth to fall through the cracks among local juvenile justice, child welfare and/or community based agencies.

Learn more at Sparky Harlan’s San Jose Inside article: Human Trafficking Sweep Shows Communities Must Come Together.

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