Child sex trafficking, a missing child issue
Thirty-one times in three years. That’s how many times one girl, called “Rebecca” for privacy, was reported missing to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Rebecca was 14 and in a group home for just 90 minutes when she first ran away.
Though she was located by law enforcement just two weeks later, Rebecca would be reported missing to NCMEC and then located a 20th time just a year later – in an area of town known for prostitution. Eventually, she was linked to a pimp, gave birth to a child and turned 18, aging out of the foster care system.
For us, stories like Rebecca’s are not rare. While no one knows the exact number of children victimized through sex trafficking in the United States, one out of eight endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2012 were likely child sex trafficking victims.
On Oct. 23, 2013, NCMEC CEO John Ryan was invited to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources about the problem of sex trafficking of youth in foster care.
“The issue of child sex trafficking is complex. In the real world, children are being sold on the streets, in hotels and in casinos,” Ryan testified. “In the online world, they are being advertised on a variety of websites. Their ‘pimps’ can be perceived friends or boyfriends, or even family members or foster parents. It is a unique type of child victimization.”
Recruiting the most vulnerable
Many of the children reported missing to us are vulnerable youth who’ve run from their families, foster care or social services, and their cases need to be treated with the utmost urgency. Traffickers know these children are in need of food, shelter or emotional support, and use these vulnerabilities to control them. Of the children reported missing to us in 2012 who were also likely victims of sex trafficking, 67 percent were in the care of social services when they ran.
These children often lack the emotional and physical safety nets to keep them away from the pimps recruiting them. Pimps scout out victims at shopping malls, schools and now over social networking. Recruiters may start an online conversation to see what the child’s needs are before luring them in.
“The most important thing we can do is to change the conversation from a juvenile delinquency issue to a child protection issue,” Ryan testified. “These children lack the ability to just walk away from their pimps. They must be recognized as victims who must be rescued and given appropriate services. Because of this, NCMEC is prioritizing efforts to urge all state child welfare agencies to report missing foster children to law enforcement and then to NCMEC.”
Child sex trafficking is victimizing children nationwide, and the only way not to find it in your community is not to look for it. November is National Runaway Prevention Month. Take some time this month to learn about child sex trafficking and potential victims in your community and what you can do to prevent it.
With training and education, parents, social workers, teachers, principals, school nurses and counselors would be more likely to recognize high risk factors and intervene prior to victimization. They can also be critical to the identification of those minors who have already been victimized to provide appropriate resources and services.
If you have information about possible child sex trafficking, please report it to our CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST, which is open 24 hours a day.