Television anchor Dan Rather had an interesting piece in The Huffington Post yesterday drawing much needed attention to the growing problem of child trafficking and prostitution in the United States. He writes that throughout his 60 years of reporting, few stories have been more shocking:
How many children are being peddled on the streets of Portland and in other cities and towns, to say nothing of the Internet?…The most conservative estimates are that at least 10,000 American children are being victimized. Many experts say they believe it’s closer to 30,000 or more.
Rather talks with law enforcement to learn how it could be possible that so many young people are exploited in such an atrocious way.
… many of the children caught up in this are middle class kids from the area…The girls, sometimes as young as 12, often 13-16, are lured by a “front man” in his mid-to-late teens. He becomes her “boyfriend,” taking her to dinner, buying her nice things, sometimes meeting her parents. The girl eventually moves in with him. Then he says they need money to continue being together. First, she’s enticed to sleep with his friends to pay the rent. Soon she’s turning tricks for what police say is an endless supply of older men willing to pay top money for sex with very young girls. Other times convincing the young adolescent girls to sell themselves happens very quickly.
The Anti-Trafficking of Human Persons division at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describe the various ways that children in the U.S. are exploited:
In the United States, children are subjected to human trafficking in many different sectors. Examples include prostitution on the streets or in a private residence, club, hotel, spa, or massage parlor; online commercial sexual exploitation; exotic dancing/stripping; agricultural, factory, or meatpacking work; construction; domestic labor in a home; restaurant/bar work; illegal drug trade; door-to-door sales, street peddling, or begging; or hair, nail, and beauty salons. Family members, acquaintances, pimps, employers, smugglers, and strangers traffic children. They often prey upon the children’s vulnerabilities – their hopes for an education, a job, or a better life in another country – and may use psychological intimidation or violence to control the children and gain financial benefits from their exploitation. Trafficked children may show signs of shame or disorientation; be hungry and malnourished; experience traumatic bonding (Stockholm syndrome) and fear government officials, such as police and immigration officers.
This same US government division provides numerous resources for people who might be victim to these crimes. One such resource is a 24-hour hotline that helps victims of trafficking by connecting them with local organizations that can provide help. The number is 1.888.3737.888. See the HHS website for more information on how to assist someone who could be a victim of trafficking or to learn more about this problem.
I am grateful to Dan Rather bringing this dark issue into the media light. Unfortunately, as pointed out by one commenter, the ad for Rather’s story on the network’s website was ironically placed below another ad – one with young girls in bikinis — for “Girls Gone Wild.” If nothing else, we can all agree that there is a deep need to continue to fight against the oversexualization of young girls and the many atrocious crimes that can accompany such objectification.