Yesterday Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and John Cornyn (R-TX) re-introduced the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act, a bill which seeks to put an end to what they describe as “modern-day slavery” and one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S.
It was standing-room only at a briefing that the Senators held yesterday afternoon. Academy-award actress Mira Sorvino, who also won a Golden Globe for her performance in the Lifetime miniseries “Human Trafficking,” spoke at the event and noted that a pedophile who abuses a child must face criminal charges and be listed as a sex-offender. Yet once money changes hands when an adult has sex with a child, there are not the same criminal consequences. She noted that the minors being trafficked are victims, as they’ve been “enslaved, raped and abused.” She pleaded with the public to help these young victims instead of processing them in the criminal justice system as offenders.
Ernie Allen, President and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), called the sex trafficking of minors the slavery of the 21st Century. He said that the number of 10-17 year olds engaged in the commercial sex trade in the United States exceeds over 250,000. He further noted that 60% of these are runaway or homeless teenagers. He said that prostitution is the overwhelming issue among runaways and shared that 1.7 million children runaway each year, but 1.3 million are gone between 24 hours and six months. Thus, it is imperative to intervene to get and keep these kids off the street.
more likely to become victims of trafficking.
Mr. Allen said that the Department of Justice’s “Innocence Lost” project has resulted in over 700 pimps being sent to prison and 1200 kids being rescued. However, he noted that there are not a lot of options for kids being trafficked because they often don’t have anywhere to go. Mr. Allen said there are not enough programs to help these kids, and much of the trafficking is organized crime, as it involves networks of sharing information and moving kids around the country. He noted that while Craig’s List has agreed to close its adult section to help “stop the sale of children on the internet,” he added that there is a HUGE need for prevention programs to stop trafficking.
Mr. Allen said that we must ask WHY there is such a huge demand in this country to have sex with kids. The offenders don’t look like criminals; they look like all of us: doctors and lawyers and corporate leaders…but we need to awake America to real societal change!
Senator Wyden noted that children in foster care are being raped and thus they accept sexual abuse as a way of life. He noted that more needs to be done to provide safe places for these young women to live. He also noted that judicial training is an important aspect of stopping this abuse, and working with law enforcement and judges is essential.
Stewards of Children can teach you how to
recognize and react to signs of abuse.
Sgt. Doug Justus with the Portland Police Bureau’s vice unit talked about how he was initially told by the District Attorney that prostitution was an issue between consenting adults in private, did not concern the public, and thus was not in their interest to prosecute. He attended a NCMEC training with Dr. Sharon Cooper on the topic of child sex trafficking and her point that these children are the VICTIMS and not the offenders. He referred to Dr. Cooper’s training as “AMAZING,” and he returned to his Department with a new agenda to combat this issue. He said that once his prosecutors and fellow law enforcement colleagues received training, they were immediately on board to combat the problem. He shared heart-wrenching stories of children in foster care who were on the street, including one whose drug-addicted mother sold her for sex when she was three and four so the mother could afford her drugs. The young girl was working as a prostitute by age 11. At one point he was provided a list of 250 children in foster care in Portland, and he noted that 85 of them had been known prostitutes.
Natasha is a beautiful young woman who was saved from trafficking 10 years ago. She told about her upbringing in an upper-middle class family and how she attended private school and was a freshman in college when a woman approached her at the mall and asked her to apply for a competitive position traveling around the country to work as a makeup artist in the fashion industry. Against her parent’s wishes, Natasha accepted the job, but learned immediately that she was being forced into prostitution. Her traffickers used emotional and physical abuse to keep her from leaving and they told her they would kill her family if she attempted to escape. She said that at the time, there were not programs for victims, and she was afraid to go back to her family as she was told she was a prostitute that would face jail time. She is now a victims’ rights advocate and law- enforcement trainer. She states that she was lucky to receive counseling and the support of her family so that she can deal with her past abuse. She noted that many young women who have been trafficked do not have such resources to re-build their lives.
Tina Fundt is the founder of Courtney’s House, a nonprofit that helps young women seeking to escape domestic sex trafficking. She shared with the crowd that having been sexually abused as a child, and a product of the foster care system, it was not unusual for her to be drawn into the sex trafficking. She was 13 when she sought help from her pimp, who she thought was her friend, despite being adopted by loving parents at age 12. She noted that her pimp lied to her and preyed upon her, waiting for one argument with her parents to send her running to him for ‘help’.
The briefing was followed by the viewing of “Playground”, a widely-acclaimed documentary by Libby Spears that reveals the disturbing epidemic of child sex trafficking in the United States.
A Brief Summary of the Senate Bill:
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act – Expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) the Attorney General should implement changes to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to ensure that a child entered into the database will be automatically designated as an endangered juvenile if the child has been reported missing not less than three times in a one-year period, that the NICIC database is programmed to cross-reference newly entered reports with historical records, and that such database is programmed to include a visual cue on the record of a child designated as an endangered juvenile; (2) funds awarded under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program should be used to provide education, training, deterrence, and prevention programs relating to sex trafficking of minors; (3) states should treat minor victims of sex trafficking as crime victims rather than as criminal defendants or juvenile delinquents, adopt and amend laws that protect minors who are victims of sex trafficking, and make such minors eligible for compensation; and (4) demand for commercial sex with sex trafficking victims must be deterred through consistent law enforcement.