Today’s guest post is written by Alliance policy intern Rricha Mathur.
Last Thursday, I attended a conference at the U.S. Capitol that focused on the commercial sexual trafficking of children in the United States and abroad. Sex trafficking is one of the less talked about domestic issues because people perceive it to be a largely international problem; in actuality, sex trafficking happens right here to our own citizens. Moreover, sex trafficking is severely underreported because victims often feel ashamed and/or are unaware of the resources available to them.
According to estimates, there are 100,000 children trafficked in the United States each year. Of these, many are runaway and homeless youth who fall prey to pimps in their desperate search for food, shelter, and stability.
The conference was sponsored by Children Uniting Nations in conjunction with several prominent members of Congress, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Mary Landrieu, and Congressmembers Karen Bass, Xavier Becerra, Ed Markey, Loretta Sanchez, Joseph Crowley, and Brad Sherman. There were also several panelists representing national organizations committed to combating sex trafficking of children including Shared Hope International, ECPAT-USA, and Fair Fund. All of the experts representing these organizations spoke of a need to fix the child welfare systems that can put children in situations that make them vulnerable to sex trafficking.
The message was clear: There is a lot of work to be done to bring visibility to the issue and create solutions to the problem.
One of the greatest challenges we face presently is the lack of information about this population. There are few definitive studies that illustrate the scope of the problem and, specifically, the number of young people who are victimized. By investing in research and data, we can better understand the problem and find specific, effective solutions.
Another component of any solution is prevention. Panelists discussed the foster care system and youth homelessness citing the relationship between failed social programs and youth homeless to the increased risk of being a victim of sex trafficking. By creating strong transitional supports for youth aging out of foster care and investing in solutions to youth homelessness, we can reduce the number of young people vulnerable to sex trafficking in the first place.
And finally, we can work on creating positive public policy. Right now, we can call upon Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking and Victim Protection Act and pass the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act. These two pieces of legislation provide resources for victims of exploitation. They also deem a minor engaged in the sex industry a victim and not a criminal offender. Making progress on these two piece of legislation will be an important step forward in ending sex trafficking among minors.
Here at the Alliance, we know that homeless youth are at increased risk of sex trafficking – as well as other kinds of violence, abuse, exploitation, and even death. We’ll be keeping an eye on these topics and others as they pertain to youth homelessness. For more information on youth homelessness, please visit our website.