It has many titles, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), Child Trafficking, Domestic Minors Sex Trafficking (DMST); but whatever you call it, it’s heinous. And it is happening because sadly, the demand is there. If we care about the commercial sexual exploitation of children, we have to care about child sexual abuse, because there is a large correlation.
Defining The Problem:
CSEC is any sexual act involving a child for which something of value is given or promised. This could be a more traditional payment in the form of cash or offering something like food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Who Is at Risk?
Children with a history of abuse are most vulnerable for sexual exploitation. Studies show that a large majority of survivors of sex trafficking have a history of abuse. Without intervention and therapy, a child that has suffered from abuse will struggle with the vulnerabilities that a trafficker will look for:
• Viewing themselves as a sexual object
• Linking love with sex
• Linking sex with rewards
• Feeling unloved
• Feeling unsafe or out of control of their own life
• Feeling like they don’t belong
“With the young girls, you promise them heaven, they’ll follow you to hell”.
- Quote from a pimp convicted of child sex trafficking
Other Risk Factors for CSEC Include:
• Substance abuse
• Low self-esteem
• Mental health issues
• Gang involvement
• Social networks
• Bus stations
• Foster homes or residential treatment centers (RTCs)
• Homeless shelters
• Juvenile detention facilities
Children are lured with the promise of protection, love, adventure, home, family, money, opportunity. Pimps/traffickers will then use threats, violence, intimidation, and fear in order to maintain control and compliance of the victim.
“One of the first things that he did, was he took me to pick up my daughter, and we took her to the park and for the first time I felt like, this is somebody who is trying to help me. Everybody else looked at my behavior, what I was doing. This person took me to get my daughter and that was very important to me. Later, I'm in the car with him and he tells me all these things that I have to do. I told him that I was comfortable with the dancing; if I couldn't dance then I wouldn't do anything else. He looked me in my eyes and he told me, "Oh you'll do it,” he said, "You know that little girl you introduced me to," he said that, "I'll make sure something happens to her”.
Signs a Child Is Possibly Being Commercially Exploited:
• Gifts from unknown source
• Few or no personal possessions or displaying new expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
• Motel room keys
• Fake ID's
• Going by a new nickname
• Barcode or ownership tattoos
• Usual signs of child abuse
• Drug use
• Lies about age
• Sudden shift in behavior, dress, friend group, or belongings
• High number of sex partners for their age or talking about sexual situations beyond age-group norms
• Frequently truant
• Frequent runaway
• Hungry, undernourished, or inadequately dressed for the weather
• Has a “boyfriend” who is significantly older
• Overly tired in class or sleeping a lot during the day
• Afraid to make eye contact
“Actually, first he took me to a store to buy hair dye. And then he took me to a shoe store, and he picked out a pair of red high heels. And, he asked the sales lady if they had them any smaller than a size 7. 'Cause I was a size 5. And they didn't. And, the sales girl looked at me, and I think it was obvious that something was awry.”
What You Can Do:
• Teach your child tactics of traffickers so they can avoid dangerous situations
• If you see something suspicious, report it to the Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or Child Protective Services (1-800-252-5400) or local Law Enforcement
• Mentor a child: Many survivors of trafficking that have expressed that, as unfortunate as the situation was, the most consistent relationship they ever had growing up was with their pimp and the pimp’s family. Government justice systems have an absolutely vital role to play in combatting human trafficking, but government simply can’t provide consistent relationships and love - that is where you come in.
• Support your local Children’s Advocacy Center: Most centers provide free therapy for the life of a victim of abuse. This helps to mitigate the vulnerabilities of a formerly abused youth as discussed above. Help those who are already helping the children who are most vulnerable.