Despite the high volume of research and reports published to date, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children continue to grow every year. These crimes happen in nearly every community in America. Legislation has been enacted to support social services and child welfare agencies in combating the problem.
While more research is needed to fully understand the scope and nature of the problem, there is obviously, an awareness gap that must be addressed. Of the many challenges facing the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the United States, the lack of adequate awareness in the population is a major one.
Sex trafficking of minors is a global problem, according to the Trafficking in Persons report, 2020. While the sex trafficking of minors does not always involve the movement or transportation of the victims from one physical location to another, human trafficking contributes greatly to the sex trafficking of minors. Accordingly, the prevalence of the issue in the country is due, in part, to interconnected global channels that serve trafficking communities across the globe, especially in the U.S.
In developing a lasting solution to the problem, we typically believe that the first approach is to study the problem. Based on this, we can identify the key issues and address them head-on. Based on our insights as an organization focused on providing support services to child and teenage survivors of sex trafficking, here are the key challenges in combating sex trafficking of minors in the country:
1. Affected children and adolescents are seen as criminals rather than victims
This was one of the key challenges reported in the Center for American Progress publication in 2014. Interestingly, 7 years down the line, it still features as one of the major challenges in addressing the issue. That report cited the persistent perception of victims of sex trafficking as teenage prostitutes rather than abused and exploited children. Unfortunately, this is a mindset problem.
As a result, victims seeking a way out are discouraged from speaking up and seeking support. Even though legislation protects victims of sex trafficking, several of them have been convicted as criminals in many states already. This practice only serves to perpetuate the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the country.
As prevalent as the crime is in our communities, many people do not even know what child sex trafficking is. Some are shocked to hear for the first time, that minors and teenagers are trafficked for sex every day across the country. Consumers of porn, for instance, may not have the slightest idea about how some of the material they’re consuming was produced in the first place. Addressing this challenge requires widespread awareness campaigns and public education.
2. Insufficient Resources to Support and Care for Survivors
Right from the beginning, more efforts are focused on identifying victims and fighting perpetrators than helping victims achieve sustainable recovery. Helping survivors of child sex trafficking to pick up the remaining pieces of their lives and make something out of it is one sustainable strategy towards addressing the problem.
After a while of being inside, some of the victims do not even see themselves as victims. They depend on their trafficker or pimps for commercial sex to survive. Survival sex happens to be the lot of many victims. That is why many who have tried to live normal lives go back; because they’re guaranteed shelter, clothing, food, and money. Many runaways and homeless youths across the country, including LGBTs, fall into this category. In fact, some engage in commercial sex for drugs and other material stuff.
When they don’t find the help they need from their families, are unable to get a job, or blend back into normal society, they often turn around and return to their traffickers. Essentially, they want to leave, but cannot help themselves. This is where we come in at the Mission HR. We provide a facility, equipped with resources to take in these children, rehabilitate them, and help them start better lives. Unfortunately, organizations like these need massive support, which is not always forthcoming.
3. Inadequate Support from Child Welfare System
As of 2014, the data available suggests that many victims of sex trafficking are young people, many of whom have gone through the foster care system. In fact, the National Foster Youth Institute estimated that about 60% of child sex trafficking victims are linked to the foster care system.
This shows the nature of the challenges faced by children in the foster care system, who lack adequate parental support. Lapses in the system expose them to traffickers, leading to the continued victimization of these already vulnerable youth and children. The recent trafficking in Persons report also hints at this issue. Combating sex trafficking effectively requires that this systemic crack be fixed. We need to actively identify victims of trafficking in the child welfare system and offer them a safe way out.
Help Make Our Communities Safer for the Kids
It is important to note the majority of sex-trafficked children represent the most vulnerable of children in society. Traffickers target homeless youths, economically disadvantaged families, immigrants, etc. This understanding further helps in addressing the problem.
Since there is a massive need to educate more people, you too can become an advocate within your circle of influence. You can report any trafficking case to trafficking hotlines or volunteer your time and resources. At the Mission Haven, this matter is near and dear to our hearts, and we’re committed to helping rescue and rehabilitate as many victims as we can. You can join us today if you wish to give, volunteer, or partner with us.