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Child Sex Trafficking: A Polarizing Topic

I am Angry! Warning! This is a full-on Rant!

Modern News programs frequently annoy me with such conflicting news reports on almost every topic. It seems that each group with a specialized viewpoint, has their own outlet reporting information with a slant that justifies their viewpoint. A train could derail in Ohio and depending on your station, somehow it will have been the results of some plot by whomever you hate at the moment.

Do you remember when the nightly news led the standard for truth and trustworthiness? My parents watched Walter Cronkite when I was growing up. They taught me how important it was to watch the news and learn about the state of the world. That was how I would know the truth.

Now, the "truth" reported every night largely depends on the television station you watch.

Politics...Religion...International news...

How can the reports from Fox News differ so very greatly from CNN if they are both reporting the truth? Does the truth even exist anymore?

Just when I had gotten used to the fact that there was no "pure" truth to be reported, and realized I had to validate everything that came out of the news media, I heard a radio report that took me past cynical and straight on to furious.

NPR, which I personally listen to daily, interviewed a journalist, whose claim to fame, was that he had "debunked" the reports on the sex trafficking ring that police had raided in the state of Georgia. According to him, they were not being sex trafficked. They were runaways and foster kids who were having sex for money. He waxed on about his notoriety for debunking the story and bringing to light the overuse of the term sex trafficking. He touted a popular reframe, "Journalists are calling everything human trafficking when minors have sex with adults and that it is not the international sex trafficking that the headlines promises the public" and not sex trafficking as "the public would understand it."

That's when my ears perked up and my blood began a low simmer.

The thought that the public would be disappointed to find out that children, being exploited for sex domestically instead of trafficked out of an exotic country, incensed me. By his very words, this journalist trivialized the sexual exploitation of minors, in his gusto to mock the overuse of the term sex trafficking. He mimicked the very pattern he decried: Sensationalizing a topic to make readers tune in.

I wised it had been a call-in program. I ranted at the radio, with very little satisfactory outcomes. Rather than burst with frustration, I decided to respond on my blog. So here I go. Based on over 30 years of working with traumatized children and youth, including those who have been trafficked for sex...

Kids do not

choose to have paid sex with strangers

for fun.

They just don't.

No matter how it appears from the movies or TV.

You might see teenage prostitutes and think, "well they made up their mind to do this to make money."

But if you don't know their backstory, you cannot judge.

The road that led them to caring so little for their own self-worth was very long and full of cracks. These kids fell through the cracks and into a life that, while they may not even know it, exacted a heavy toll on their physical and emotional well being.

Yes, international sex trafficking grabs headlines. However, sex trafficking occurs domestically as well. The victims aren't wealthy, well-adjusted teens who are kidnapped and forced into slavery. No, the victims here are often children who come from hard places: runaways, abused children and foster kids. For reasons of their own traumatic early life, foster children are exceptionally vulnerable to the charms of the pimp. So No, Liam Nielson is not likely to fly across the world to fight the bad guys who are enslaving his daughter, keeping us on the edge of our seat! But the dehumanization of the child next door is no less a crime.

Almost as if there were a playbook, the pattern of luring a child into trafficking follows a very well-used pattern. Pimps look for children who come from unhappy, often abusive homes, those with low self-esteem, runaways, and foster kids. Many times, the pimp will use an accomplice to approach the victim (often another worker in his "stable", brain-washed into believing she could not survive without him). The accomplice befriends the new victim, then introduces her to the pimp, who will find her beautiful and express his interest in "dating her." The honeymoon phase begins with him lavishing her with attention, affection and gifts: clothes, shoes, never revealing his intent of creating dependence upon him Partying with alcohol and drugs, the victim experiences acceptance and caring from the pimp and his "family". Next, the pimp persuades the minor to pull a trick to "help make ends meet. and as proof of her love for him" Soon the minor is involved in regular prostitution, very often using drugs to dull the physical and emotional pain. Physical violence and humiliation becomes a part of her new world.

Is this trafficking?

The law calls any one who profits from the orchestration of sex between a minor and an adult to be sex trafficker. Using that criteria, sex trafficking is the exact term to use for the scenario above.

I will even expand it further. What about the parent who offers their child to their drug dealer for sex in order to procure drugs?

I have seen it.

I have seen relatives sell their nieces to the landlord to pay the rent.

I ask, Mr. Journalist, would you not call that sex trafficking? The adult used a minor as currency to receive something in return. Do those kids not count?

Mr. Debunker, why would you think that we, the public, would not care about these kids no matter what the crime is called? Do you think so little of people?

The danger in trivializing domestic trafficking revolves around identification of victims .Trafficking victims don't typically walk up to a hospital or police station and ask for help. Though their early life experiences, they don't trust authority. They don't trust anyone, but their pimp. So to reach out and help a minor caught up in sex trafficking, the professionals rely on the public to call and report suspicious activity that suggests trafficking. Belittling the incidence or the outcome of trafficking by journalist, lead others into ignoring what goes on in front of their eyes.

One salient point made in the interview bears repeating. Despite what you may or may not call the victimization of minors though sex trafficking, there are very few places that house the children. The need for specific crisis centers that treat and provide a safe haven for these kids remains great. There is also a need for more training to practitioners in working with this very difficult population.

Working with the minors who have been trafficked can be traumatic to the practitioner as well. Each child brings, with them, their own trauma packed so tightly in their hearts and souls that it is hard to get through to them. But with practice and patience they can be reached.

Maybe the term child sex trafficking is overused. Or maybe the media has made it so sensational that the public is fatigued with the term. If I leave with any point, after this rant, it is this. Don't lose the meaning in the words.

These are children. These are the hurt, discarded kids that someone was diabolical enough to recognize as walking victims. Stop arguing about what to call them.

Just See them.

Just Help.

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