The FBI recently announced that Operation Cross Country XI, their ongoing project to combat child sex trafficking, recovered 84 juveniles and the arrested of over 100 traffickers. The sordid detail getting the most press is that one of the victims was three months old and another was five years old.
Child sex trafficking is when money is exchanged for sexual access to a minor. There may or may not be a middle man (“pimp” or “trafficker”). It is a repulsive crime that we talk about a lot, but despite our verbiage, facts are slow to disseminate. So here are answers to common questions about child sex trafficking and Operation Cross Country.
Q- How many children are involved in child sex trafficking in the United States?
Q- Is most child sexual abuse child sex trafficking?
A- No. The Adverse Childhood Experience study by the CDC demonstrated that among a middle-class, educated population 20% of participants had been sexually abused. So based on the CDC’s estimate and the number of children in the United States, approximately 811,000 children are sexually abused for the first time each year. So if we use the 21,000 number, child sexual trafficking represents about 2.6% of child sexual abuse.
Q- How often do people abduct children with the intent of abusing or trafficking them?
Q- How do most of the people who sexually abuse children get access to their victims?
A- They usually form a relationship with the child, desensitize them to manipulation, secrets and unwanted touch. At least 90% of the time the child is abused by someone they know and trust. It’s worth noting that sex tracking victims are usually sexually abused before the trafficking starts.
Q- What’s the relationship between child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking?
A- There is a very strong relationship between child sexual abuse, high ACE scores and child trafficking. According to a recent study a high ACE scores including sexual abuse is the most significant risk factor for child trafficking.
Q- But didn’t you read the sidebar in the FBI’s write-up about Ali, who grew up in the suburbs with a loving family?
A- A child can grow up in a loving family in the suburbs and still have a high ACE score. And being trafficked doesn’t mean they will automatically talk about their abuse with reporters, or consciously make the connection between abuse and trafficking.
Q- Wouldn’t sexually abused children want to avoid more sexual abuse?
A- Child sexual abuse changes a child’s conception of relationships, consent, trust and sexuality in a fundamental way. A child who sees rape, violence and betrayal as inevitable may be afraid to resist these things, they may lack a baseline for what a healthy relationship is, and they may see the ability to profit off sex and violence as somewhat empowering.
Q- What about the five-month-old and the infant?
A- Trafficking of pre-pubescent children is rare. It is one of the clearest examples of poor parental attachment- most parents, no matter how desperate, would never entertain the idea of letting someone rape their child for money. The best thing for facilitating maternal attachment is participation in a Maternal Home Visiting program.
Q- What happens to child trafficking victims?
A- They face a very difficult path. They usually come from homes where they experienced abuse, betrayal and cruelty. They may be pushed back to that home, or choose to go back, in the hope of having a healthy relationship with their family. This seldom works, as they were likely traumatized with behavioral problems before they were trafficked and will return more traumatized with worse behavioral problems. This strife may drive them back into the sex trade. If a return to their family isn’t an option, they may be placed with a foster family, which is unlikely, or placement in a secured foster care/ group home. Most of these options aren’t appealing to victims, who will often choose to return to sex work.
Q- How can I protect my child from trafficking?
A- The best way to protect children from trafficking is to protect them from ACEs. Parents can learn how to protect children from sexual abuse, take parenting classes, commit to non-violent parenting, and see if they qualify for a Maternal Home Visiting program. Talk about healthy relationships when children are very young, and let them know it is never OK for someone to force physical contact, or to hurt, manipulate or control them.