Human trafficking is modern day slavery, and it is happening right here in the High Desert. Have you ever been worried that your child might be caught up in the unthinkable situation of being forced to sell their bodies for sex and you are at a loss as to what to do? On January 30, an event was sponsored by the non-profit American Institute for Resource and Human Development, Inc., and the San Bernardino American Newspaper.
A presentation was made by Mrs. J. Harrell-Sims on this subject, speaking to an audience of High Desert residents, government officials, family members of victims, and others who are interested in stopping this problem.
Mrs. Harrell-Sims is currently a probation officer and high risk juvenile officer specializing in victims of sex trafficking. She is pursuing her PhD in Human Services, specializing in Family Studies and Intervention Strategies, and the subject of her dissertaion is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.
What is the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children? The commercial sexual exploitation of children is a global problem that could be happening right in your neighborhood. The commercial sex industry victimizes girls, boys, and transgendered youth. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurs when individuals buy, trade, or sell sexual acts with a child. Sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act.”
Children who are involved in the commercial sex industry are viewed as victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons, which is sex trafficking “in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” A commercial sex act is “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”
How does a child become a victim? Pimps and traffickers target vulnerable children and lure them into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation using psychological manipulation, drugs, and/or violence. Any child may be vulnerable to such a person who promises to meet his or her emotional and physical needs. A trafficker/pimp’s main purpose is to exploit the child for monetary gain. Often traffickers/pimps will create a seemingly loving and caring relationship with their victim in order to establish trust and allegiance. This manipulative relationship tries to ensure the youth will remain loyal to the exploiter even in the face of severe victimization. These relationships may begin online before progressing to a real-life encounter.
Victims are Targeted
Pimps are predators who seek out vulnerable victims, particularly runaways or children experiencing trouble at home. They know these children have emotional and physical needs they perceive are not being met and use this to their advantage. Pimps find victims at a variety of venues such as in social-networking websites, shopping malls, and schools; on local streets; or at bus stations. While pimps often target children outside of their family, a family member may also prostitute a child.
Victims Are Tricked
Pimps are willing to invest a great deal of time and effort in their victim to break down a victim’s natural resistance and suspicion – buying them gifts, providing a place to stay, promising a loving relationship – before revealing their true intent. Frequently victims do not realize the deceptive nature of their trafficker’s interest in them, viewing their pimp as a caretaker and/or boyfriend.
Psychology of Victimization
Pimps may use force, fraud, or coercion to virtually enslave their victims. Juvenile victims have been controlled by threats of violence to their family; pornographic images taken and used for blackmail or stigmatization; physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Child victims may be gang-raped to desensitize them to sexual activity prior to victimizing them in prostitution. Victims are taught to not trust law enforcement and may have experienced negative encounters with law-enforcement officers. Victims often remain with pimps out of fear of being physically harmed, having another victim endure physical harm, or a threat to their family members. Pimps have been convicted of plotting to murder cooperative victim witnesses and for the homicide of victims, further instilling fear.
This is also common among child victims exploited for commercial sex. The child experiences a strong link to the pimp/exploiter based in what the child perceives as an incredibly intense or important relationship, but one in which there has been an exploitation of trust or power. Emotional bonding is a learned tactic for survival and can be common between exploited children and the exploiter. Advocacy groups working directly with this population note reframing the trauma bond with a pimp/exploiter can take months of therapy and/or residential treatment for the child. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very common among children exposed to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and may be characterized by such symptoms as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyper-alertness.
Victims of commercial child sexual exploitation often have unique needs given the frequent nature of multiple acts of sexual exploitation or violence, by multiple offenders, over potentially a sustained period of time.
Despite the seriousness of the problem, the incidence of commercial child sexual exploitation is difficult to measure. Empirical research has not conclusively defined the scope of the problem today. Below, however, are some significant findings from past studies.
Statistics – Pimps prey on victims as young as 12 to 14 years old.
– One study estimates as many as 325,000 children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are at risk each year for becoming victims of sexual exploitation.
– A history of physical and sexual abuse is often common among victims.
– One study estimates 30% of shelter youth and 70% of street youth are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. They may engage or be coerced into prostitution for “survival sex” to meet daily needs for food, shelter, or drugs.
– Sex trafficking need not involve actual movement of the victim.
– Pimps may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars every year from selling minors.
– 75% of child victims engaged in prostitution are under the control of a pimp.
This was the second annual presentation, and was held at the Green Tree Inn. For more information on this subject and how you can help or receive help, call (877) 431-0616, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Other helpful organizations to contact include the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678, or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888.