Tonya was just thirteen years old when meeting Eddie, who was a classmate’s step dad. Then at the age of fifth teen they started dating and Eddie claimed his property pressuring Tonya to have sex for money. Thinking this would be a onetime thing, young naïve Tonya agreed because she really liked this man. Tonya spent night after night in different hotel rooms, with different men, all at the command of someone she once trusted. She was held against her will, beaten and made to feel like she had no other option at the time, all by the man she thought she loved (ICE My Story). Luckily, Tonya was able to escape after weeks of suffering thanks to U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and a special agent. Police received a helpful tip about Eddie’s crimes and gave the information to Homeland Security Dallas. Homeland Security then stepped in an Eddie was arrested receiving twelve years for his crimes (ICE).
Sex Trafficking is a major issue in the United States and needs a solution to the problem. There was data collected between Janurary 2008 through June 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reporting system, which concluded 82% of all trafficking in the U.S. committed was sex trafficking (OJP). As you can see from above young girls are taken under the control of older men and persuaded to do unthinkable things. However, sex trafficking does not just affect young girls but young boys as well. It is noted that 70% of trafficking victims are female, and 50% of the victims are children (Tomes). Average age of girls becoming victims is between twelve and fourteen, boys and transgender youth between ages eleven and thirteen. According to the Department of Justice(DOJ), 95% of boys involved in sex trafficking actually are victims to adult married men, and 75% of girls are pimped out (Tomes). Sex trafficking is where a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person is induced to perform such an act has not attained eighteen years of age (2016 Trafficking Report). Victims don’t always recognize themselves as victims especially in situations where the traffickers/ pimps simulate romantic and familial relationships (Child Welfare). Meaning, pimps take on the role as a boyfriend giving them the attention desired, offering places to live, clothing, and protection (Child Welfare). Majority of our Child Welfare population, fall victim to sex trafficking because they are runaways who have stability issues, family issues, making them perfect targets to sex traffickers (Child Welfare). Within 48 hours of children being on their own, approximately one-third are recruited into prostitution (Tornes). The government has been progressing with tracking and trying to put a stop to sex trafficking. They have been passing new laws, updating old ones, building task forces to help with the issue, creating programs, and getting everyone involved. This is why communities that are affected all over by sex trafficking, need to come together and spread self- awareness. Get involved find out about programs to help troubled youth, learn what sex trafficking is, and how to identify children in need of help. Get involved with your own children inside the home, teach them love, self-respect, and if you do have a problem child don’t be quick to give up on them. Communities have to continue to be proactive in being part of the solution to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is considered as modern day slavery (Persons Report 2016). In 2012 President Obama and his administration requested Federal agencies to develop a plan to strengthen services for victims of human trafficking, (Strategic Plan) which includes sex trafficking. The Federal Strategic Action Plan on Servies for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, 2013-2017, was made up of four goals. To align efforts by looking at provisions of services for victims, improve understanding, expand access to services, and improve out comes (Strategic Plan). This is a five-year plan to continue growing with the work that’s already being done about sex trafficking. Giving government, states, and other stakeholders to opportunity to create new training tools, and develop programs that will help our victims. “No single federal agency has the expertise, resources, or authorization to address fully the needs of human trafficking victims in the United States; however, by pooling the diverse efforts of the entire Federal Government and working closely with service providers and allied professionals, great progress can be made in the next five years” Strategic Plan 2). With this plan the government is also giving tools to the community. Because the plan requires everyone’s help, and there will be more resources available to the communities like training programs, information on where to report incident’s you may see with children, and gain knowledge on different task forces who are out there helping with the issue.
For instance, did you know that many states passed a “Safe Harbor” law that decriminalize the Acts of children who are exploited for commercial sex, providing legal protections, and access to services (Child Welfare). Not all states have the funds from legislation to make needed changes for trafficking but seek funds elsewhere still allowing those states to do their part (Child Welfare 12). This is a perfect example of the community coming together to still help with the issue of sex trafficking. As a community, we have to keep doing our part with helping stop sex trafficking because these are children at stake. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2014 was contacted over 20,000 times by people of all ages who were either seeking help, or reporting a person in need and of these 3,598 instances were all sex trafficking (Child Welfare). Knowledge is being passed around and we are reaching the victims and community.
Some other acts that play a role in stopping sex trafficking is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act(TVPA) which was originally created in 2000 and has continuously been improving over the years (Tornes). The TVPA created stronger penalties for sex traffickers of children instead of punishing the trafficked victim (Tornes). ). Though some originally believed this was a step in the right direction the act ignored those who were buying sex. If money was exchanged between a man and underage girl than she could be locked up for prostitution and he might receive a ticket, but if no money was exchanged than statutory rape was being committed (Tornes). Due to this act in 2003 the Protect Act was created and strengthened federal legislation to protect the children and prosecute those who exploited children. Also increasing the potential incarceration time, of a convicted sex trafficker from fifteen years to thirty years (Tornes). Through updating of the act in now promotes the 3P paradigm of prosecution, strategies to prevention of sex trafficking which is prosecution, protection, and prevention (Report June 2016). The 3p’s break down as follows, prosecution of traffickers have enacted laws that criminalize all forms of human trafficking, protection moves beyond victimization and rebuilds their lives, and lastly prevention provides communities with information and risk of trafficking (Report June 2016). Over the years we just continue to see change come about. We have to continue to pass around all new and old information to others.
There are also help guides on how to identify children who have been exposed to sex trafficking. How to look for physical evidence, psychological and behavioral clues when trying to identify victims. Information like this is available to all those interested to know, from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Also the government has training programs setup to go in and train law enforcement, medical clinics, special task forces, and other stake holders on also identifying victims. Identifying victims is one of the hardest parts of trafficking because victims may not believe they are victims. Some have guilt, shame, and self- worth that keeps them from looking to be rescued (Child Welfare). As a community some may look at the older teens who are sixteen and seventeen and believe they made the chose to prostitute, but we must remember that children are exposed to a lot of psychological abuse. Remember that trafficking does not just occur on the streets. We need to keep an eye out on massage parlors, escort services, hotels, cleaning services, bars, and restaurants. Traffickers tend to keep the victims hidden. Signs we can look for in a victim is lack of identification, no personal possessions, can’t speak for themselves, not sure of where they are at just to name a few (Human Trafficking Fact Sheet). The psychological and behavioral clues could be development of helplessness, shame, guilt, or self-blame. Also they may suffer from sleeping disorders, have issues with panic attacks, anxiety, or depression. When looking for physical signs check for bruising, broken bones, burns, scars. Also we can look for health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, pelvic pain or forced abortions (Human Trafficking Fact Sheet). Some of the clues used to identify victims will need to be checked by a doctor but many can be seen by any regular person. You don’t have to be a doctor, law enforcement, or government official to help. Just by continuing to be aware and hold the necessary knowledge about sex trafficking, you are already doing your part.
Lastly, another way for the community to get involved is by paying attention to social media and the way we advertise the information gathered about helping victims. As a community you want to make sure that the information you present gives a clear message and not confusing people. Make clear that these youths are victims and are in danger daily (Report June 2016). For years law enforcement has targeted popular websites to track victims of sex trafficking. Law enforcement has actually identified online sex ads as the number one platform for the buying and selling of sex with children and young women (Heil and Nichols). The internet can be used to enable and combat sex trafficking (Heil and Nichols 423). The FBI reported in 2008 over 2500 advertisements online selling children for sexual services that traffickers posted on free advertising sites (Heil and Nichols 422). Law enforcement has worked to shut down sites like these but by doing so we only cause the traffickers to get more creative with how they advertise young children. Those committing sex trafficking will turn to other sites that are free like Facebook or other social media sites. I have come across girls who looked underage on Facebook and Instagram promoting sex. But this is how we can spend more time doing the part. Look out for those who promote sex and see if they appear underage and report pages like these. Having a friend who is a advocate for human trafficking I am able to pass information along to her so she can put it in the right hands.
If this is what it takes to help in stopping sex trafficking than I am willing to do my part. As a community anything is possible, and the tools are available at our finger tips. Yes the government, and states are doing great work with catching these criminals but sex trafficking is far from over. Communities still need to come together and get proper training and pass on what they learn to others. It all starts from one person standing up for what is right and doing something about a problem which affects so many people. Keep making sex trafficking regular issue so awareness will always be present. Sex trafficking isn’t something not happening to us like many may have thought. There are so many more Tonya’s in the U.S who still need the help of not just government but communities to. Stand together and fight for all children out in the U.S even if they are not yours. Teach what you learn, share all knowledge because that is how progress will continue to happen with sex trafficking. It may not end today but at least we can make the issue better.
Child Welfare Information Gateway, Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS
Heil, Erin and Nichols, Andrea. Contemporary Justice Review, 2014
Vol.17, No.4, P 421-433
Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking Fact Sheet
ICE, Human Trafficking Victim Shares Story
Department of Homeland Security
Office on Trafficking In persons
Federal Human Trafficking Strategic Plan
University of Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy
Aug 2013; vol 24 issue 2. P.213-234
Trafficking in Persons Report June 2016
U.S Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs OFP Fact Sheet Dec 2011