Over the past few weeks a barrage of articles, blog posts, and conversations have been posted, recorded, and published about the Super Bowl and sex trafficking. Some say that the "Super Bowl [is a] hotbed for human trafficking" while others rebut, saying there's no evidence to prove it. Regardless of this debate, one thing is certain: the Bay Area community is thinking and talking about human trafficking -- and that's a good thing.
It's a good thing because we know that this evil exists, but it's only a hum in the background -- of our minds, our society -- which we all ignore. We rationalize by saying, it's not our children, our community, or our problem. Thankfully the Super Bowl has brought it to the forefront of our consciousness, and it can't be ignored any longer.
Don't be mislead, the Super Bowl did not bring this calamity to our community. It's already here. It's a pervasive issue in the Bay Area and has been for years. Back in 2009 the "FBI identified 13 areas with the largest incidence of child sex trafficking in the nation" and San Francisco was one of them -- it's our issue with or without football.
It's also our kids. Far too often the idea of sex or human trafficking conjures up immigrants being imported in droves. The truth is, just like any other type of child abuse, sex trafficking crosses every area code, race, and culture. It's a middle school girl in Pacific Heights, it's a varsity soccer player in the Tenderloin, it's a big brother in the Mission. It's children, on average from 12-14 years old.
It gets worse. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable of children. Many of the boys and girls who are trafficked are already in abusive situations. Sexual abuse is a common factor amongst trafficking victims, with reports showing that 70 percent to 90 percent of these kids were sexually abused prior to being trafficked. Another form of abuse is neglect, which leaves kids open to seeking new relationships. Not only that, anywhere from 60 percent to as high as 88 percent of trafficked children are in the child welfare system.
It goes without saying, as a community, we are failing these children long before they fall victim to traffickers. It's hard to think of greater injustice than hurting kids. For a community whose battle hymn is of justice and equality, it's time to stop avoiding the greatest injustice in our community.
These children have been robbed of their childhood. Yet historically our society has treated them as felons, as prostitutes -- and many places still do. It's essential that not only our policies change but so must our perspective.
Here in San Francisco, our city and county is at the forefront of how to best serve these victims. Recently, in response to new state law, the Human Services Agency (child welfare) and the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center joined with community organizations and government agencies to create new protocols and protections, which ensure that these underage victims are treated as such -- victims. That they are not persecuted or prosecuted, but receive care and services for the trauma they have endured. As a community, we must surround these children with the support they need.
Child abuse takes many forms and manifestations. Some are difficult to notice, others are utterly apparent. It's not identifiable by skin color or gender or geography. Whatever the type, whoever the child, it's our responsibility to stop it. We must protect our children.
How are we going to stop trafficking, end child abuse of all kinds, and protect our children?
Here are some steps to help us all do our part:
[Step 1] Be honest: child abuse and sex trafficking is right here in our community.
[Step 2] Change our language: child prostitutes don't exist, child victims do.
[Step 2] Be aware: take notice of kids abnormal behaviors and relationships -- always speak out.
[Step 3] Get involved: be a positive, active, and involved role model in our community.
[Step 4] Give what you can: give your time, your money, your voice -- whatever you can -- because together we can end child abuse in our community.
Let us all cry out for safety, for happiness, and for a childhood for each and every child.