The average life expectancy of a trafficking victim is seven years. Homicide and drugs are the leading causes of death among victims.**
One-third of the 2.8 million runaways each year in the US are lured into child prostitution or pornography within 48 hours.****
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Definition of Commercial sexual exploitation
The commercial sexual exploitation of children involves crimes of a sexual nature committed for financial gain or other economic reasons. These crimes include trafficking for sexual purposes, prostitution, sex tourism, mail-order-bride trade, early marriage, pornography, stripping, and performing in sexual venues such as peep shows or clubs. Children may engage in or be coerced into prostitution to meet their daily needs for food and shelter; they may be controlled through physical, verbal, or sexual abuse; as well as, threats of violence against their families, and pornographic images taken and used against them for blackmail.
Research on children who are victims of sexual trafficking and/or exploitation suggests these children have a different pattern of risk factors, vulnerabilities, service needs, and challenges. These children are sexually, physically, and mentally abused, causing them to be socially isolated, afraid, and ashamed. They can become overwhelmed and re-victimized when engaging with the juvenile justice system or when serving as witnesses in criminal cases against their exploiters. These children often feel that returning to the streets is their only option.
Child sex trafficking and exploitation is often viewed as an overseas problem. However, this nightmare exists here in the United States for thousands of children.
What kinds of experiences do girls face before becoming sexually exploited?
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Parental alcohol and drug use
- Domestic violence, neglect, or abandonment
- Running away from home, homelessness and economic need/poverty
How do adolescents become victims of trafficking?
Most girls (and boys) enter one of the following ways:
- Running away and living on the streets, making them vulnerable to pimps.
- Girls may be recruited by “Romeo” pimps. Romeo pimps will pose as a boyfriend. They are very perceptive when choosing girls and will target those with tough home lives or low self-esteem. The Romeo pimp will brainwash her into thinking he actually loves her and has her best interest at heart.
- Girls may be kidnapped and forced by “gorilla” pimps. Gorilla pimps are violent, they use abuse and intimidation to recruit and keep the girls. They will often “break” the girl’s will to prepare her for prostitution and her new life. This is done in several ways: physical and sexual abuse, isolation, coercion, threats, and substance abuse.
- Involvement in gang-related prostitution. Girls are used as a revenue stream, in addition to drugs and weapons.
- A parent or relative pimps their child in exchange for money or non-monetary items.
- International or domestic major crime operations “circuits”
- The “glamorization” of the subject in movies, television, and music leads girls to think the life is glamorous and they traffic themselves.
Consequences of Sexual Trafficking and Exploitation
Physical health issues
- Injury resulting from violence perpetrated by pimps and customers
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Physical pain from frequent sexual activity and stress-related pain.
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Fear/trust issues
- Trauma bond also known as Stockholm Syndrome
- Codependency and poor boundaries
- Attitudes towards intimacy
- Participation and identification with underground social networks
Mental health issues
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Development of poor coping skills including drug use and other forms of self harm
- Suicidal ideations
- Explosive disorders/violence
- Low self-esteem
Characteristics of trafficking victims
- Low self-esteem
- Gang affiliation
- Chronic runaway
- Prior sexual abuse
- Presence of older boyfriend
- Multiple sexually transmitted diseases
- Tattoos or other branding marks
- Signs of violence
- Involvement in the system through truancy, curfew violations, other status offenses
*Shared Hope International, **FBI, ***UNICEF, ****National Center for Missing and Exploited Children