In an address to the U.N. General Assembly then-President Bush said:
“Each year, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world’s borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as five, who fall victim to the sex trade. This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year — much of which is used to finance organized crime. There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life, an underground of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others. And governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery.”
This tragic form of slavery is not just a problem “over there,” in third world countries far removed from us. On the contrary, it is happening right in our own backyard. Despite laws criminalizing it, sex trafficking is a huge problem in America.
In The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children, Shared Hope International affirms that at least 100,000 American children a year are victims of sex trafficking, and that number may be much higher. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) highlights the fact that sex trafficking of children is largely under-reported in their estimate that 1 in 5 girls are sexually abused or assaulted before they become adults and 1 in 10 boys, however less than 35% of those cases are reported. Researchers estimate that 10–15 percent of children living on the streets in the United States are trafficked for sexual purposes according to the National Institute of Justice in their report Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: What Do We Know and What Do We Do About It?.
And that question, “What do we do about it?” must be considered, both on an individual level and a state/federal government level. Legislatively speaking, both the federal government and many state governments have passed laws criminalizing human trafficking, and providing for its punishment (see figure 1 below). However, we are finding that this is not enough. Shared Hope International states:
“Victims of domestic minor sex trafficking are frequently processed as juvenile delinquents or adult prostitutes. Prostituted juveniles are trained by their trafficker/pimp to lie to authorities and are provided with excellent fraudulent identification resulting in their registration in the arrest records as an adult… Due to the unique trauma bonding that occurs between a victim and her trafficker, these children often run from juvenile facilities right back to the person that exploited them.”
The National Institute of Justice says it is estimated that 96 to 98 percent of victims are in need of basic amenities for survival: food, housing, transportation, etc. In response to this many states have introduced legislative initiatives to promote awareness and support to those brutalized by sex trafficking. The figures below will give you an idea of the state of sex trafficking laws in the states.
For a detailed explanation of each state law check out the Fact Sheet on State Anti-Trafficking Laws from US PACT [Policy Advocacy to Combat Trafficking] a program of the Center for Women Policy Studies.
For assistance or to report a sex trafficking case contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center national hotline at: 1-888-3737-888 or go to the Polaris Project website.
To view a detailed US Department of State summary on human trafficking in the US and other countries click here.