By: Jana Parker, PR & Marketing Specialist at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center
I’ve heard it said that women are our greatest resource. They are our mothers, our teachers, our protectors. But these roles are being threatened. In today’s world, when the average age of entry into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, some even as young as 9 years old, (ECPAT USA – End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) we must wake up to this horrible reality happening to girls across the nation.
To first begin a discussion of human trafficking in America, we have to put aside previous notions or beliefs about this trade. Many people when they hear the words “human trafficking” they picture girls being shipped from one country to another in small, cold, and dark containers and forced to be chained to a bed. Although this is a reality in some parts of the world, here in America it is happening to girls you would never suspect. So…who is she?
She is the straight-A student on the high school varsity tennis team, she is the vulnerable middle schoolgirl searching for her identity; she is the girl looking for love in all the wrong places. The face of the trafficked victim can be any girl, our daughters, our nieces, our friends. The growing reality is that pimps and johns are getting smarter, learning better grooming and recruiting tactics to lure girls into their world. They are no longer forcing the girls to become addicted to hard drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, but rather using prescription painkillers and alcohol in order to prolong the life of their precious commodity. In this lucrative business of trafficking, these girls can be bought and sold time and time again.
Although the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center doesn’t see child trafficking victims, we see the children who have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and therefore are vulnerable to run away from home and become involved with the wrong people who prey on these children’s weaknesses. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one common characteristic or risk factor for prostituted girls is a history of childhood sexual abuse. In 20 recent studies of adult women who were sexually exploited through prostitution, the percentage of those who had been abused as children ranged from 33 percent to 84 percent (Raphael, 2004). Furthermore, across the United States 36,402 boys and 47,472 girls younger than age 18 were picked up by law enforcement and identified as runaways. (Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports (2006). Girls who run from their homes, group homes, foster homes, or treatment centers, are at great risk of being targeted by a pimp (or trafficker) and becoming exploited. Once on the street, homeless youth are at risk for being victimized because they lack the funds, interpersonal and job skills, and support systems necessary to survive on their own (Martinez, 2006).
In waking up to this reality that is occurring every day, we must encourage government and law enforcement professionals to eliminate the demand for these women to be purchased. We cannot afford for these pimps and johns become any smarter. We must adhere the words that mean so much today, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s speech in Washington, D.C., “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
To all of those involved…don’t ever stop moving forward.
The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center helps the most severely abused children in Dallas County. The average age is a 9-year-old girl. Through DCAC’s therapy and other services, young girls who have been sexually abused are able to learn, maybe for the very first time, that they are valued, worthy of real love, capable of achieving their dreams. Your support of DCAC allows them to receive hope and healing and to move forward in the next chapter of their lives.