When movies or books address the topic of child trafficking, they tend to show it as something that happens in other countries on other continents. The plot of 2008’s Taken involves a 17-year old girl who is kidnapped after she travels to France with a friend, unaccompanied by parents or guardians.
The truth is that the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is much more pervasive than people realize. It affects communities and children across the globe, and in many cases, the perpetrator is not some shadowy, menacing figure, but someone who is known and trusted by the child. So, what is CSEC, exactly?
WHAT IT IS
CSEC is any sexual activity involving a child for which something of value is given or promised.
Those “things of value” may be money, but they also includes things like food, clothing, gifts, access to higher grades, or protection from threat. Victims may begin to associate these “things of value” with their own personal value, causing their self-worth to diminish.
“That’s the lowest you can feel in life because at that point
you’re no longer human. You have a value on you that is so low.”
HOW IT HAPPENS
Traffickers, those who help facilitate CSEC, can target vulnerable children and lure them into sexual exploitation through psychological manipulation, drugs, and/or violence.
Unfortunately, traffickers frequently develop a seemingly loving or caring relationship with their victims in order to gain their trust. Sometimes, traffickers target youths online, and begin this manipulative relationship before ever meeting in person.
Sexual predators often seek out children who have emotional or physical needs, such as runaways or children experiencing trouble at home. The traffickers exploit these needs and use them to their advantage.
WHO IS INVOLVED
Traffickers can be a trusted friend or family member. A trafficker commonly goes to great lengths to develop a seemingly loving relationship with their victim, and some victims may view their pimp or trafficker as a boyfriend/girlfriend.
Traffickers often use psychological manipulation and physical threats to make a victim feel trapped. This can result in the victim feeling powerless, and therefore even more reliant on their trafficker or abuser.
Children exposed to repeated acts of sexual exploitation commonly suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other psychological issues which frequently require extensive therapy and treatment.
Additionally, child sexual abuse makes children more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. More than 90% of children who are commercially sexually exploited have been sexually abused in the past.
“I have gone to the store and bought toys for my child
that valued more than what my trafficker sold me for.”
SIGNS TO LOOK FOR
Some possible indicators of sexual exploitation include:
- Current signs of/ a history of running away, emotion, sexual, or other physical abuse
- Inexplicable appearance of expensive clothing or other gifts
- Presence of an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Drug addiction
- Gang involvement
- Withdrawal or lack of interest in previous activities
It is important to remember that when a child receives something of value for being sexually exploited, it should never be mistaken as the child’s consent.
WHAT TO DO
If you discover or suspect commercial sexual exploitation of a child call the police or make an online report at the Cyber Tipline®.