Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Tamara Stafford Arizona State University 15 February 2019 Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking Because of their youth and inexperience, children are generally more vulnerable to manipulation by adults. Moreover, a child who has run away from an abusive home, or who has been thrown out of her home, can be much more easily persuaded to do things in exchange for “a better life.” Promises of money, education, or a relationship with someone who cares for them undoubtedly sound very appealing to a child who has had little to no love or care. Runaways and “throwaways,” homeless children, those with a history of suffering abuse, those in foster care, and kidnapped children are far more susceptible to sexual exploitation than children who reside in stable, loving homes. According to the FBI, there were over 400,000 entries for missing children in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database in 2018; this number includes multiple entries for any child who ran away more than once. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) assisted families and law enforcement with more than 25,000 of those missing children in 2018; 92% of those missing were endangered runaways. It is estimated that 1 in 7 of those runaways were likely victims of domestic minor sex trafficking (NCMEC, 2019). Although some are male, the majority of sex trafficking victims are female (Miller-Perrin & Wurtele, 2017). The presence of violence in the family home, especially the physical and sexual abuse of a child, can lead the child to run away from home, placing her at an elevated risk for exploitation by traffickers. But, even those that are not being abused can find themselves in a vulnerable position when they run away. In the documentary, Selling the Girl Next Door, a young girl, Selina, runs away from her Las Vegas home after fighting with her mother and gets picked up at a bus stop by what she believed to be a nice man offering her a ride. She would soon find out that he was, in fact, a pimp who would later sell her on the website Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking Backpage.com. Selina was sold into sexual slavery at just 12-years-old. What began as an innocent ride turned into a nightmare for this young girl just looking to escape her home and avoid fighting with her mom (Turnham, 2011). As Miller-Perrin and Wurtele point out, one way to understand domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is through the principle of supply and demand (2017). The trafficker is driven by money; from the perspective of the consumer, he is driven by motives such as sexual desires (Kotrla, 2010). As with any business, as long as there is a demand, then it must be met with a supply. In this case, the supplies are children who are targeted and recruited by pimps and traffickers. Interestingly, a study by Kimberly Kotrla and Beth Ann Wommack performed in 2011 found that, of at least 153 victims sampled, they were an average age of 15 years old and had not run away from home; this is an important distinction. The victims in the study usually ended up in an exploitative situation through “some type of false promise, followed by kidnapping” (Kotrla & Wommack, 2011). It is noteworthy that, while runaways are most definitely a vulnerable group, many young girls are sought out and recruited in the comfort of their own homes, online through social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Kotrla and Wommack stress that the reality of online predators must be underscored during prevention work with younger children, and that the work needs to begin much earlier than the age of 13, the average age of entry into sex trafficking (2011). Young women (and men) need to be educated about the risks posed by these online exploiters, which includes teaching them about the methods employed by traffickers and pimps to recruit victims. Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking Because this education needs to start when children are young, elementary and middle schools should be implementing this into their curriculum. Churches and shelters also have a great opportunity to train youths about online predatory behavior. Another useful prevention tool are public awareness campaigns. Thankfully, public awareness of domestic minor sex trafficking is growing. Health organizations are participating in the efforts to end DMST by identifying victims; these efforts, combined with the diligence of grassroots communities to increase media coverage aimed at young girls intended to raise their awareness of the dangers, are helping to shed light on a dark and dangerous threat (MillerPerrin & Wurtele, 2017). People cannot be moved to action to combat a problem unless they know it exists. Additionally, many providers of care who may come into contact with victims also need to be alerted to the reality of DMST, and be properly trained to respond to it so they can better care for and counsel victims. Care providers in domestic violence and homeless shelters, foster and group homes, as well as nurses and medical staff in hospitals and clinics where victims may seek treatment should all be well educated about DMST, and know how to recognize the warning signs displayed by victims. Attaining this knowledge will allow providers to identify a child sex trafficking victim, treat them accordingly, and seek appropriate care and counseling. While progress has been made with regard to public awareness, reintegrating victims of DMST back into society proves to be a difficult task. David Hodge points out that the identification of victims is an “essential first step in the process of healing and restoration of wellness” (2014). If victims are not identified, they are denied access to services and are unable to escape their traffickers. Law enforcement officers usually play the primary role in Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking identification, but Hodge suggests that social workers can also play a vital role in this respect. There is some research to suggest that more than a quarter of trafficking victims visited a health professional while they were being trafficked (Hodge, 2014). Victims often work long hours in squalid conditions with little food, and may undergo unsafe abortions leading to health complications which precipitate a visit to a hospital or clinic. Social workers in these environments have the opportunity to assess and identify a trafficking victim and facilitate care and assistance. Not surprisingly, victims of child sex trafficking suffer not just physical harm, but bear long lasting emotional and mental scars as well. While there are no specific symptoms that can distinguish trafficking victims from non-trafficking victims, there are certain indicators that may suggest an individual has been trafficked. For example, signs of physical abuse such as scars or cigarette burns, the absence of documentation, and the constant presence of another person (likely a pimp,) can indicate trafficking. Likewise, emotional characteristics such as signs of fear, depression, or evasiveness when answering questions can suggest a person is being victimized (Hodge, 2014.) Additionally, it is crucial that law enforcement and social workers recognize that, while these women have broken the law, they are victims of sexual exploitation and should be treated as such. Leaving trafficking is often a difficult process, despite policies enacted by the U.S. government to aid victims of trafficking such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) which was passed in 2000. Many women do not want to leave their traffickers for fear of their own safety, or fear of retribution to their families. Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking When young women do escape, they face other challenges, such as finding safe and secure housing. Proposed shelters that have been authorized in the VTVPA need to be funded in order to be realized, and this can be accomplished by the combined efforts of social workers and local groups to raise funds in communities where the need is greatest (Kotrla, 2010.) Like other victims of abuse, victims of DMST may identify with their exploiters, believing that they care for them (Hodge, 2014.) The emotional and mental harm suffered by victims needs to be addressed and treated, as this is likely to cause more trauma than the physical abuse. Moreover, if the mental health of the victim is not restored, they are much more likely to succumb to re-victimization. Social service providers and law enforcement professionals need to be knowledgeable about domestic minor sex trafficking; what it entails, where it exists, and who is most vulnerable to being victimized. Social workers need to be given the resources to fully implement programs to assist these young women in exiting trafficking, accessing mental health care, and living productive lives in society. Law enforcement should crack down on the pimps and traffickers, and prosecutors should aggressively seek harsher sentences for those predators who traffic children. Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking References Hodge, David R. (2014). Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: Strategies to Facilitate Identification, Exit from Trafficking, and the Restoration of Wellness. Social Work 59.2, (pgs. 111-118). Kotrla, Kimberly (2010). Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in the United States. Social work, 55.2, (pgs. 181-187). Kotrla, Kimberly & Wommack, B. A. (2011). Sex Trafficking of Minors in the US: Implications for Policy, Prevention and Research. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 2(1), 5. Miller-Perrin, Cindy & Wurtele, S. K. (2017). Sex Trafficking and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. Women & Therapy, 40:1-2, (pgs. 123-151). National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Retrieved February 8, 2019, from http://www.missingkids.com/footer/media/keyfacts#missingchildrenstatistics Turnham, Steve (2011, January 23). Selling the Girl Next Door. Atlanta, GA: Cable News Network.