It’s an unthinkable, unspeakable crime that happens every day in cities large and small across America.
Its victims are from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
Sometimes they’re from abusive homes. Sometimes their families are just simply struggling. Sometimes they’re runaways or have been involved in the juvenile justice system. They can be from foster homes or are estranged from parents grappling with their child’s LGBTQ identity.
These are the children – the victims – of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST).
In 1996, the FBI had approximately 100 open cases of DMST in the US.
By December 2013, that figure grew to more than 7,000.
Join webinar host Eva Klain, the director for the American Bar Association’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Projects, to learn:
- Practice-oriented approaches for improving the response to child sex trafficking victims,
- The components of Safe harbor Laws
- And the results of a recent ABA survey discussing Safe Harbor implementation.
Webinar attendees will gain the tools and understanding around specific strategies they can use to protect children from being re-traumatized and how to ensure they receive the services they need to recover.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): This is a tough subject for a lot of people — the idea of children in the sex trafficking industry. What drew you to the challenge of addressing this issue? What makes you “keep going” in the face of all the challenges?
Eva Klain: From criminal prosecution to child welfare advocacy, I have been involved in addressing the legal system’s response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children throughout my career.
Early on, I worked with prosecutors and law enforcement professionals who were highly motivated to intervene and help youth caught in the cycle of sexual exploitation, but at the time may not have had many options or resources available to them. As more attention was focused on international human trafficking, many advocates realized it was not just victims who were brought into the United States who were being exploited, but many youth within the country were also falling victim to what was now identified as trafficking.
Seeing the problem of exploitation through a trafficking lens allowed a greater focus on the youth as victims. This groundswell of advocacy and support helped shift the paradigm not just through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), but now also through changes in how child abuse is defined to encompass victims of trafficking and how the child welfare system is being engaged to provide necessary, trauma-informed, and specialized services to child trafficking victims.
Each small victory or improvement leads to additional, real system improvements that benefit individual victims.
JCH: The webinar is specifically titled “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.” How is the industry — and the challenges fighting it — different from, let’s say, the international market for sex trafficking? Or adult trafficking?
Eva: Attention on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking followed increased focus on international trafficking, including sex trafficking and domestic servitude or labor trafficking.
Human trafficking involves a pattern of power and control used to extract labor or services, often but not always for financial or material gain. The TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking” as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age” (emphasis added). Thus, minor victims subjected to sex trafficking are legally considered victims of severe forms of trafficking. Children and youth require specialized services and should not be treated as criminals
“The average age of entry into the sex trade
in America is 14-16 years old.”
JCH: In the webinar, you mention that the new legislation is designed “to ensure identified youth are treated as victims and not offenders.” Why has it been so important to reinforce this?
Eva: In previous efforts to address the prostitution of children and youth, frustration with the ability to provide necessary services led to approaches that detained or arrested youth with the goal of providing those services while the youth were system-involved. While often well-meaning, these systems could not provide the specialized services trafficking victims need.
Involvement in juvenile or criminal court also creates consequences that follow youth well into adulthood and can affect their ability to achieve better educational and work-related outcomes.
Youth too young to consent to wanted sex are certainly too young to consent to an involuntary sexual activity. The view that children could be prostitutes shifted to a recognition that they were, in reality, being prostituted, which eventually led to larger efforts to change perceptions among justice system professionals and the general public through campaigns such as Rights4Girls’ “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute.”
By changing this view, child victims can be provided with evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment services they require.
“A pimp can make $150-200,000 per child annually,
and exploits an average of 4-6 girls.”
Trafficked Teen Girls Describe Life in ‘The Game’, National Public Radio via Thorn
JCH: What do you hope attendees will gain from your webinar? What’s the ideal “takeaway?”
Eva: I hope participants will gain a greater understanding of what Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking is and dispel many of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding this issue.
Attendees will learn about various laws, such as the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which are designed to establish systems of care and support for victims within the child welfare system rather than further involvement with the juvenile justice or criminal systems. They will also learn about Safe Harbor laws and the extent to which specific provisions in such laws may be helping the justice system treat trafficked children and youth as victims rather than offenders.
The ideal takeaway would be for attendees to approach young trafficking victims with a greater understanding of the trauma and suffering they may have endured and to direct them to appropriate services, leading to better life outcomes for the victims.
To view the webinar, “Protecting the Victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking,” click here.