It’s a rather startling number. At any given time, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children in the U.S. alone at risk for child sex trafficking. While many people tend to think this horrific crime is something that only occurs in third world countries, they are sadly mistaken. This modern day form of slavery is alive and well in our own backyards. Girls are not the only targets either—so are boys.
“These are not children living in some faraway place, far from everyday life,” FBI Director James Comey stated. “These are our children. On our streets. Our truck stops. Our motels. These are America’s children. They are not for sale”
To put the problem in perspective, consider these alarming numbers:
- 75% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online.
- A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and exploits an average of 4-6 girls.
- 325,000 children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual exploitation in the United States.
- The average age of entry into the sex trade in America is 12 – 14 years old.
U.S. Cities Notorious For Sex Trafficking
In 2003 as a part of its Innocence Lost National Initiative, the FBI identified 18 U.S. cities where child prostitution is a major problem. Atlanta ranked number one on the list—a number city and community leaders are obviously not too happy about. However, they’re determined to combat the problem head on.
“It’s a moral evil. It’s a moral cancer in the midst of a great city, and it’s something as a faith-based community are trying to address,” stated Cheryl Deluca-Johnson with the non-profit group Street Grace
Her organization is a non-denominational alliance of churches, community partners, and volunteers whose goal is to bring an end to commercial sexual exploitation in Atlanta and duplicate these efforts in cities across America.
“One of our initiatives is supporting at-risk neighborhoods,” she stated. “We know that if all we do is rescue rather than prevent children from entering it in the first place, then we’ll increase the number of children affected by it.”
Of course, Atlanta is not the only city grappling with this massive problem. According to the FBI, the other following cities are hubs for human trafficking:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- New Orleans
- San Diego
Grooming: What It Is
Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming.
The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by engendering in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs.
Child Prostitution and The Missing: The Link
One in six endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2014 were likely sex trafficking victims. This is up from one in seven in 2013.
According to the organization, 68 percent of these likely sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran. However, victims could be anyone—your son, your daughter, neighbor, niece or nephew.
The Warning Signs
It’s not uncommon for a law enforcement officer to list a child as a runaway rather than endangered and a victim of sex trafficking. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to these ten warning signs below:
1. Unknown numbers on phone bills or unexpected credit card charges
It’s important that parents are attentive to a child’s phone bills. In an open and honest environment, it can be helpful to sit down and go over the charges/call with the child to learn who they’re interacting with.
2. Going missing from home at odd hours or for days
Although this warning sign may see somewhat obvious, it is usually the excuse or reasoning behind their absence or location that is cause or concern. Keep in mind that trafficker want to conceal the child’s activities by using threats or force, making it harder to verify their whereabouts.
3. Unexplained relationships or interactions with older adults
These types of relationships are clearly inappropriate, but the underlying danger is that the older individual could be manipulating or forcing the child to perform sexual acts or favors.
4. Alcohol or drug use
Alcohol and drugs are common ways that traffickers recruit children into the sex industry. The goal of the trafficker is to diminish a child’s natural resistance to unnatural situations and/or to get victims addicted so that they will do anything to get their next fix.
Any signs of physical or sexual abuse are major causes for concern. Adults should be aware that predators seek anonymity; therefore, external signs of abuse may be hard to identify. More likely, evidence of abuse shows up in changes in behavior or emotions.
6. Delinquent behaviors or increase of criminal activity
Trafficked victims are not just forced to perform sexual favors. Traffickers force victims to steal, lie, cheat or con in addition to selling themselves. Many times, the victims are not engaging in these activities themselves but rather for the older adult.
7. Withdrawal or loss of interest in age appropriate activities
Children at risk of becoming victims exhibit low self-esteem and poor self-image. Predators will prey on children by convincing them that they are valued, thereby luring them away from normal activities and social interactions.
8. Sudden increase in absences and tardiness from school
If a child is not attending school or suddenly begins to miss a lot of school, then they are likely with someone else. Predators will seek to draw children away from activities that they don’t really like to convince them that more enjoyable activities can be had away from supervision.
9. New “street name”
Predators will convince children to go by other “street names” or pet names in order to conceal their identity and age.
10. Sudden change in dressing patterns, personal hygiene or grooming
This warning sign is not a typical teenager showing interest in make-up or nicer clothes. This is a sudden and drastic change in their appearance and grooming habits.
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But now internet people search services can perform the same function at a minimal cost.