7 Things to Know About the Underage US Sex Trade
1. It exists. Americans tend to associate sex trafficking of minors with distant countries and often don’t realize the same problem is serious and growing within the United States. Nicholas Kristof, whose masterful and heartbreaking reports illuminated human trafficking in Cambodia, recently shone the spotlight on the tragedy’s American twin, and two bills pending in Congress will hopefully give the US a chance to better understand and address domestic trafficking.
2. The number of children forced into prostitution is high, and the average initial age is low. Within the US, more than 100,000 children are victimized through commercial sex and prostitution each year. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14 and the average age for boys and transgender youth is 11-13. That’s a pretty harsh reality check for people who advocate on behalf of some form of “voluntary” prostitution.
3. American street-kids are one of the most vulnerable groups. According to Kristof, “There’s a misperception in America that “sex trafficking” is mostly about foreigners smuggled into the U.S. That exists. But I’ve concluded that the biggest problem and worst abuses involve not foreign women but home-grown runaway kids.”
4. There have been cases of human trafficking in all 50 states and D.C, and your favorite city could easily be a center for sex trafficking. It’s worth being informed, and there are probably local shelters where you can volunteer or lend your support.
5. Your words matter. A new language is emerging that more accurately and sensitively reflects the realities of sex trafficking and prostitution. For example, popular culture has rendered the word “pimp” almost cool and, therefore, useless. Activists recommend it be replaced with the word “trafficker,” and similarly, a person who is a “John” is better described as “a man who buys sex from young girls.” Anyone forced into prostitution or exploited by traffickers is a victim or survivor.
6. Exploitation, not violent coercion or physical movement across borders, is the common factor between all cases of sex trafficking.This is according to an eye-opening report by Dr. Raymond and Dr. Hughes. Exploitation, and therefore sex trafficking, comes in many forms: subjection to physical coercion, harassment, or threats; an addiction to drugs; an inability to speak the local language; economic necessity; etc. Since prostitution is inherently exploitative, it is intricately linked to trafficking. According to the report, “trafficking should not be separated from prostitution. Anti-trafficking policies and programs must address organized prostitution and domestic trafficking. Most trafficking is for prostitution, and operates within the context of domestic sex industries.”
7. Every child involved in the sex trade is a victim. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, any child selling sex in the United States is, by definition, a victim of human trafficking. However, according to the Department of Justice, 1,600 children were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice in 2006.
Revitalizing our fight against sex trafficking will take changes in funding, laws, and enforcement, but it will also require society to take a fresh and thorough look at what the problem is and who it is hurting.
If you’d like to help combat sex trafficking within the United States and support the crime’s victims, please sign the Care2 petition.
photo credit: thanks to Alyssa L. Miller via flickr
please note: the teen pictured is not a victim of the sex trade