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3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States

3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States

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There is growing recognition that the sex trafficking of children is an issue in the United States. But there is much work still to be done to effectively combat this crime and provide appropriate services and support to victims.
There is growing recognition that the sex trafficking of children is an issue in the United States. But there is much work still to be done to effectively combat this crime and provide appropriate services and support to victims.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Apr 07, 2014
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1 Center for American Progress | 3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States
3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States
By Chelsea Parsons, Andrew Cray, Malika Saada Saar, and Yasmin Vafa April 8, 2014
 Wihelma Oriz Walker Petigrew, known as , spen much o her early childhood in he oser care sysem, and a age 10, a man who was nearly wice her age argeed her. He began o sexually exploi her and sell her o any willing buyer; his abuse coninued or he nex seven years. During his ime,  was repeaedly arresed and charged wih crimes such as soliciaion and prosiuion and sen o juvenile deenion aciliies,  where she was reaed as a criminal raher han a vicim o serious sexual abuse and was urher raumaized and humiliaed by he agencies designed o help her.
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  is no rom Souheas Asia or Easern Europe; she was born and raised in he Unied Saes. And ragically, she is no alone. While human rafficking is ofen hough o as an inernaional problem ha occurs in ar-flung locaions around he world, sex rafficking o children in he Unied Saes is becoming increasingly common.  Afer many years o advocacy by ani-human-rafficking organizaions and service pro- viders, he issue o sex rafficking o children in he Unied Saes is receiving unprec-edened levels o atenion rom leaders a all levels o governmen, including Presiden Barack Obama, who recognized he presence o sex rafficking here in remarks o he Clinon Global Iniiaive in Sepember 2012:
 Bu for all he progress ha we’ve made, he biter ruh is ha rafficking also goes on righ here, in he Unied Saes. I’s he migran worker unable o pay off he deb o his rafficker. Te man, lured here wih he promise of a job, his documens hen aken, and  forced o work endless hours in a kichen. Te eenage girl, beaen, forced o walk he srees. Tis should no be happening in he Unied Saes of America.
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Tere are a number o bills currenly pending in Congress o address various aces o he problem, and saes across he counry are enacing legislaion o beter proec chil-dren and eenagers rom his orm o violence and abuse.
 
2 Center for American Progress | 3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States
Bu despie his atenion and a remarkable group o biparisan leaders looking o address he issue, significan challenges remain o successully comba sex rafficking o children in he Unied Saes. Firs, here is an exreme pauciy o reliable and comprehensive daa regarding he scope and naure o he sex rafficking o minors. Second, alhough here has  been an evoluion in he way vicims o sex rafficking are perceived in his counry, here is sill a grea deal o work o be done o rerame he issue as one o abuse and exploiaion o children raher han one o eenage prosiuion. Tird, breakdowns and ailures o a num- ber o overlapping jusice and social service sysems conribue o he coninued vicimiza-ion o already vulnerable youh and creae numerous missed opporuniies o ideniy  vicims o rafficking and offer hem a sae way ou. Each o hese challenges conribues o and reinorces he ohers. A successul naional sraegy o comba his horrific orm o child sexual abuse will require significan acion on all hree challenges.
Assessing the scope of the problem
Beore we can develop policies and programs o adequaely address he sex rafficking o children in he Unied Saes, we firs mus undersand he scope and naure o he problem. And while we cerainly know more now han ever beore abou sex rafficking o children and eenagers, he available daa are ar rom comprehensive. Te primary saisics used o describe he prevalence o child sex rafficking in he Unied Saes are esimaes o he number o children who are a risk o becoming  vicims o his crime. Te Federal Bureau o Invesigaion, or FBI, esimaes ha roughly 293,000 American youh are a risk o becoming vicims o sex rafficking.
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 Te Naional Cener or Missing & Exploied Children esimaes ha one in seven o he endangered runaways repored o is holine in 2013 were likely vicims o sex rafficking.
4
 Te limis o hese figures are obvious󲀔hey are merely esimaes o he scope o sex rafficking o children in his counry. And while hey are reliable esimaes, hese figures sill all shoro an acual coun o vicims. A recen sudy by he Urban Insiue aimed a ascerain-ing he scope o sex rafficking in eigh major U.S. ciies esimaed ha he underground commercial sex economy󲀔which includes he sex rafficking o minors󲀔ranged rom $39.9 million o $290 million in each ciy in 2007.
5
 More specific daa on confirmed insances o sex rafficking o minors show much lower numbers han hese esimaes. Te FBI repors ha i rescued more han 2,700 vicims o child sex rafficking beween June 2003 and June 2013 hrough he Innocence Los Naional Iniiaive, a parnership beween he FBI, he U.S. Deparmen o Jusice Child Exploiaion and Obsceniy Secion, and he Naional Cener or Missing & Exploied Children.
6
 However, his is probably a significan underrepresenaion o he oal uni- verse o sex-rafficked children in he Unied Saes, as hese cases are ar more likely o  be handled locally.
7
 
 
3 Center for American Progress | 3 Key Challenges in Combating the Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States
Te agencies ha are more likely o encouner higher numbers o vicims󲀔sae and local law enorcemen and social service agencies󲀔engage in inconsisen daa col-lecion and reporing. Te bes reporing on sae sex-rafficking cases comes rom he ederally unded human-rafficking ask orces ha operae in 42 jurisdicions around he counry. Tese ask orces, creaed by he 2008 reauhorizaion o he rafficking  Vicims Proecion Ac, or VPA, repored 1,407 suspeced cases o sex rafficking o minors beween January 2007 and June 2010.
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 Oher jurisdicions sporadically repor on sex-rafficking cases involving minors. Te Alameda Couny Disric Atorney’s Office in Caliornia, or example, idenified 267 cases o sex rafficking o minors rom January 2011 o December 2012.
9
 A 2013 sudy by he ennessee Bureau o Invesigaion ound ha our counies repored more han 100 cases o child sex raffick-ing, and an addiional nine counies each repored beween 26 and 100 cases.
10
Congress has atemped o address his vacuum o comprehensive daa abou human rafficking in he Unied Saes by including daa collecion requiremens in he 2008 and 2013 reauhorizaions o he VPA. Bu significan challenges o collecing hese daa remain. Firs, many sae and local law enorcemen agencies have no received adequae raining abou he sex rafficking o minors and how o ideniy hese cases. As discussed in he nex secion, many in law enorcemen across he counry have been slow o recognize ha sex-rafficked eenagers are vicims o a serious crime raher han volunary parici-pans in a consensual sex rade. Tis lack o raining means ha many rafficking cases go unrecognized and unrepored. Te same is rue o social service and child welare agen-cies: A lack o raining means ha rafficked and a-risk youh may go unrecognized as  vicims by service providers and child welare advocaes. Second, even when local auhori-ies have been rained and are on he lookou or hese cases, he hidden and underground naure o his crime means ha cases ofen ail o cach he atenion o law enorcemen.
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  A hird, significan barrier o comprehensive daa collecion on sex-rafficked minors in he Unied Saes is ha vicims ofen do no ideniy hemselves as such. While one migh expec more sel-reporing by young people󲀔paricularly in he orm o requess or assisance o social service agencies and organizaions󲀔ormer vicims ofen repor ha during he ime hey were being rafficked, hey did no consider hemselves o be  vicims o sex rafficking. Raher, hey ofen viewed heir exploiaion a he hands o raffickers as an exension o he abuse hey endured or years in he oser care sysem or as a necessary means o survival in he absence o suppor rom amily or communiy.  Addiionally, many young peoples hesiance o perceive hemselves as vicims may  be par o heir response o he rauma o heir experience or a means o sel-empow-ermen.
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 Tis ailure o view onesel as a vicim is likely reinorced by he coninued reusal o many in law enorcemen o view vicims as such. Cerainly, hese challenges in daa collecion are no insurmounable. Bu unil we have comprehensive daa abou he sex rafficking o minors in his counry, i will remain a significan challenge o craf appropriae legislaive, policy, and law enorcemen responses o address his issue.

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