Child Sexual Exploitation

I was watching the stock market last night, and I thought, you know, just from a purely cost-benefit analysis, investing in child sexual exploitation, as an exploiter, is just an incredible investment … It costs nothing to do it … and they’ll [the victims] just keep bringing in the money … It’s sickening really.” ~ Sharmin Bock, Deputy District Attorney and head of Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, Alameda County, California

I would sell myself for the smallest things and sometimes it was the most important things, like just to get a place to sleep at night.” ~ “Jessica,” Survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking

Children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable and most exploited segment of the population. Children may be easily intimidated into keeping silent about abuse. Children below a certain age may not even understand the sexual nature of what is being done to them. There have been cases right here in New York of sexual assault on toddlers and infants. It is not uncommon that family members or trusted friends are the abusers.

There are instances where sexual abuse of children is tolerated within a culture. In Northern Afghanistan the practice of “dancing boys” has a long tradition.  Many hundreds of boys, often as young as 11, are lured off the streets on the promise of a new life, many unaware that their real fate is to be used for entertainment and sex. They’re the “Bacha Bereesh,” literally “beardless boys,” chosen for their height, size and beauty, trained to sing and dance for male audiences, and then traded for sexual favors among former warlords and powerful businessmen (see article link below). In Haiti, the tradition of “Restaveks” has sent thousands of children into conditions of domestic servitude that often include sexual abuse. In some cultures the practice of ‘child brides‘ is long established and accepted. A girl as young as 8 may be sold, traded, or given as a gift to be the wife of a much older man. In many parts of the world the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is exacerbated by the belief that sex with virgin girls will confer protection from HIV/AIDS and/or offer other miraculous benefits including improving complexion. This drives the demand for younger and younger victims.

Young children, both boys and girls, are extremely vulnerable to all forms of trafficking. They are a specific target for certain sexual predators, and as such they are also targeted by traffickers catering to that demand.  Of key importance to understanding domestic minor sex trafficking is the fact that a child under 18 years of age is automatically considered a victim of “severe forms of trafficking” due to age alone. No proof of force, fraud, or coercion in the case of sex trafficking of a minor is required. Trafficking is a crime of exploitation. The majority of minors who become involved in prostitution are runaway or thrown away children from abusive or otherwise dysfunctional homes. They are often lured into prostitution by sophisticated criminals who convince them not only that they will earn money to survive but also that they will be taken care of and have the secure loving environment that they lacked at home. Broken promises, broken dreams, shattered childhoods. Pimps take the money a child earns on the streets and engage in severe physical abuse to build a relationship of dependency.

The Making of a Girl (5:08) Producer: Jillian Buckley. An intimate journey of a hypothetical preteen girl as she faces a life of sexual exploitation. Rachel Lloyd, founder of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, takes us through the pain and trauma of this largely ignored current issue facing American youth: sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and  abuse.

While sexual exploitation of children certainly occurs in the U.S., it occurs on a vaster scale and typically to even younger victims in less affluent countries. We have noted that one widely quoted study claims the average age for entry into prostitution is 13 years old. In some countries it is considerably younger. Children are frequently sold into debt bondage by a parent or other family member. Child sex tourism is a big industry catering largely to pedophiles from more affluent countries.

Young girls arrested for prostitution, following instructions of their pimp, often present false documents to indicate that they are older. It is frequently the case that these documents are not scrutinized, so these children are processed as criminals rather than victims. They are led to believe that this course will return them to the street more quickly than if they are identified as juvenile delinquents where they may be held for a longer period. That assessment is often correct.

Experts speak of the trauma suffered by child sex trafficking victims as more severe than other sexually-based trauma given the frequency of abuse coupled with the reinforced victimization and stigma attached by the community at large. Therefore, the services required for a child sex trafficking victim are unique and rarely available. Many victims cannot access the services due to their detention and resulting label of juvenile delinquent. In some cases, the victim’s access to services can be contingent on cooperation with law enforcement in an investigation into the trafficking crime. Sex trafficking is the only sex crime in which the victim is threatened with incarceration or denial of services to elicit facts about the crime.

In response to this problem, state legislators in New York passed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act. The act presumes that a person under the age of 16 is a “person in need of supervision” rather than a juvenile delinquent, taking them through the family court system instead of criminal court. It also provides long term housing and counseling for such recognized victims, which may include any victim under the age of 18.

Child Sexual Abuse Rampant Globally,
Gabriel J.X. Dance, New York Times, September 29, 2019

245 arrested in U.S.-led child sex abuse operation,  by Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer, January 4, 2013

U.S. Department of Justice, Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section

Afghanistan sees rise in ‘dancing boys’ exploitation, by Ernesto Londono, Washington Post, April 4, 2012



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