Sex Traffickers Are Victimizing Children All Across The US
Authored by Jana J. Pruet via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
On any given day—in communities across the nation—thousands of children are being victimized by sex traffickers.
In 2022, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 31.9 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation—up from 29.3 million reports in 2021 and 21.7 million in 2020. NCEMC is a national nonprofit founded in 1984 by John and Revé Walsh, whose son Adam, 6, was abducted from a department store in Florida in 1981. The boy was later found murdered.
Many are unaware that child sex trafficking is a growing problem in the United States, regarding it as an issue occurring in other countries. But the reality is that this problem happens every day—close to home—in big cities, small towns, and rural areas in every state.
And it could be happening right next door.
Children at Risk
Child sex trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a minor for the purpose of a commercial sex act,” according to federal law.
“No child is immune to becoming a victim of child sex trafficking, regardless of the child’s race, age, socioeconomic status, or location, and every child involved in this form of commercial sexual exploitation is a victim.”
The majority of missing child reports involve children who run away from home, putting them at a high risk of falling prey to sex traffickers, Staca Shehan, vice president of analytical services at NCEMC, told The Epoch Times in an interview.
Last year, there were 359,094 entries for missing children entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). In 2021, there were 337,195 total entries. The number of entries represents the number of reports, meaning a child who runs away multiple times in that year could be recorded multiple times.
In 2022, NCEMC assisted law enforcement, families, and child welfare with 27,644 missing children cases.
One in six runaways who were reported missing were likely victims of child sex trafficking, according to data collected by the organization.
“The numbers that we have remained consistent the past few years,” Shehan said. “One in six of the more than 25,000 cases of children reported missing to the national center in 2022, who had run away, were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
Children living in group homes or those who have been part of the child welfare system are “extremely” susceptible to recruitment by traffickers, Shehan said.
“Traffickers have been known to find where the local group home is and hang out outside, Shehan said. “[They’re] looking to engage and start conversations and start to recruit kids for victimization through trafficking.”
Social media, online gaming sites, and other seemingly innocuous websites are frequently used by perpetrators for recruiting.
“[The child] is playing a video game and meets somebody on that game,” Katia Gonzalez of Alliance for Children in Tarrant County told The Epoch Times. “They’re engaging on that site, and that person asks them to switch to a more dangerous site like Snapchat.”
Messages on Snapchat disappear after 24 hours, making it difficult to track your child’s activity, Gonzalez explained.
She said the adult would often say things like, “I really have a great time with you” as a way of building a relationship with the child and gaining their trust.
Many times, children do not realize that they have been exploited because they trusted the adult who victimized them, Gonzalez said, adding that parents should take notice if their child suddenly has money or things they did not buy for them or they become secretive.
Other risk factors include youth who have a history of mental health issues, drug use, sexual abuse, low self-esteem, poor academics, and minimal social support, according to the National Center of Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE).
A 15-year-old girl in Arizona went to a high school football game where she “met a friendly 20-year-old woman,” a trafficking researcher wrote on the NCSSLE website. They began chatting, and soon the woman ran across the street to buy the teen girl a cell phone. But the gift came with a catch.
“The girl would need to repay the newly acquired debt by giving men ‘massages in motel rooms.”
Many times, human smuggling and sex trafficking go hand in hand, DPS Sgt. Steven Blanco told The Epoch Times, adding that children coming into the U.S. alone are at great risk for child sex trafficking recruiters.
“Research has shown that there’s a lot of unaccompanied minors coming across the border, and once they are in the United States after being smuggled in, where they go throughout the country is very hard to track,” Blanco said, adding that these youth are vulnerable to recruiters because they are alone and have no money.
It is difficult to know for certain how many children are being victimized in the U.S.
“The unfortunate reality is, I don’t know of anyone who has that statistic,” Shehan said. “I don’t know of any organization, [or] anything that has the nationwide total of children being victimized through trafficking. And that’s why we started to track it with the missing child cases to put out at least a trend from what we’re seeing.”
Shehan said she believes the numbers are “much higher” because there are four forms of child sex trafficking.
Forms of Child Sex Trafficking
There are four forms of child sex trafficking, Shehan explained.
The first form is pimp-controlled trafficking. The trafficker develops an intentional relationship with the child and uses it as leverage for exploitation.
“We’ve learned from survivors of child sex trafficking that their traffickers would send them home at night or back to their group home,” Shehan said, adding they may have multiple cell phones or apps to provide access to multiple phone numbers making it difficult for law enforcement to track.
Another type is gang-controlled trafficking, where the child is being recruited, controlled, and sold by a gang member or the organization as a whole as a means of making money, Sheehan explained.
The third form is familial trafficking. The child attends school and lives in the home with their parents or guardians, but they are being controlled and sold by a family member, or someone the child believes is a relative.
The last form is buyer-perpetrated trafficking, where the buyer exploits the child’s survival needs.
“It’s a buyer who’s directly exploiting that child’s vulnerabilities,” Shehan said. “A missing child who runs away doesn’t necessarily have their birth certificate or identification, something they would need to get a job.”
Without a job, the child has no money for food, shelter, or clothing.
“So, buyers will take advantage of that and offer to either let them stay with them in exchange for sex” or offer food or money to the child, Shehan continued.
Blanco said sex trafficking is a problem that requires everyone’s attention and everyone’s action.
“If you see something, say something. If you’re a victim, or you believe someone is a victim, or you have knowledge of something you believe is suspicious, as far as human trafficking, child exploitation, child abuse or neglect, always reach out to local law enforcement,” Blanco said.
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Sat, 05/27/2023 – 19:30
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