For a few weeks in October, the world’s attention was fixed on one young blonde girl in Greece that authorities had removed from the Roma couple she was living with in central Greece; DNA testing revealed that she was not their biological child. The girl’s parents were found in Bulgaria and the question raised: had she been sold to the family she was living with?
Child Trafficking in South Florida
South Florida is the third-biggest area for sex trafficking in the United States. Children and teenagers, many from troubled or abusive homes, are often targeted, lured by promises of money, gifts and affection. Many end up in and out of prostitution and, then, in and out of jail.
The Tampa Bay Times describes some recent cases of human trafficking in which teens have been forced into prostitution. One involved three people running a trafficking ring in which two runaway girls, ages 15 and 16 and found through Internet ads, were forced to have sex with as many as five men a day. In another case, a 60-year-old woman has been charged with offering a 14-year-old foster child up for sex to a 25-year-old man who was charged with lewd and lascivious battery.
As Jeremy Lewis, executive director of the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, says, a trafficking victim “is someone who’s being exploited, being forced to commit” a criminal act. Human trafficking involves someone exerting control over – enslaving — someone else to make a profit and is a felony crime.
Earlier this year, a new law that was designed to ensure the safety of child victims of traffickers, the Safe Harbor Act (pdf), went into effect in Florida. Minors can no longer be prosecuted for prostitution. Instead of being criminalized and placed in jail, they are to be placed in safe houses to receive treatment and protection from pimps.
But Florida has a dearth of such safe houses — only two with a total of twelve beds, according to Renewal Forum. Children who have been victims of trafficking can instead end up in group homes, foster homes, or facilities for abused and abandoned children and get caught in a vicious cycle.
Given how extensive a problem sex trafficking is in parts of Florida (authorities cite the state’s extensive tourism industry as a major reason), the government more than needs to make provisions to protect trafficking victims and provide treatment so they don’t end up back on the streets.
International Adoption and Child Trafficking
In an internet age, traffickers have more tools than ever at their disposal. In September, a Reuters investigation found that some U.S. families who had adopted children in Russia were engaging in “private re-homing,” soliciting other families via online message boards and other sites including Facebook to take children that they no longer wanted. By doing so, they’re seeking to avoid government regulations and could be violating the law.
As of last week, authorities in Moscow have been investigating whether Russian children adopted by Americans are being illegally trafficked. As Reuters points out, ”no U.S. laws specifically recognize re-homing or attempt to regulate it, and no U.S. government agencies track what happens to international adoptees. Existing rules that regulate transfers of child custody across U.S. state lines are widely ignored.”
The lack of regulations regarding re-homing, along with the shortage of safe homes and supports for children who have been the victims of trafficking, underscore the need for the United States to take concerted action and face up to the fact that child trafficking is an American as well as a global concern.
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