Byline: Marie Smith, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Sex trafficking is known to destroy the lives of women and children internationally, but it is also "homegrown" and devastates the lives of American youth from all economic levels. Summer is fast approaching and with it an increase in the number of children living on the streets at risk for increased commercial sexual exploitation.
Everyday between 1.3 million and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth live on the streets. According to the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department of Justice: "Although comprehensive research to document the number of children engaged in prostitution in the United States is lacking, it is estimated that 293,000 American youth are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation." Caught in this dehumanizing activity most frequently are homeless children labeled as "runaways" or "thrownaways." Underneath the labels and misunderstandings there exists a repeated tragic story of sexual abuse inflicted primarily on young girls by those they counted on most - fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles or other trusted adults.
Desperate to escape the abuse, some young teens are lured away from home through e-mails or by a trafficker who appears to be well-meaning and concerned. Once on the streets, frightened and with little survival skills, a homeless minor is easy prey. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, one out of every three teens on the street will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. They also report the average age a girl enters prostitution is 14, with many victims only 11 or 12 years of age. For boys the average age is 12.
Sophisticated criminals earn the children's trust and then force them to participate in escort services, massage parlors, nude dancing, stripping, pornography and prostitution. For the abused this becomes "survival sex," where their basic needs are met only if they obey the controller's demands.
Traffickers may take children across state lines to avoid detection and to follow major sporting, cultural and recreational events. Cars, vans, SUVs, limos and buses transport these young victims to cities that attract large numbers of transient males, including conventioneers, military personnel, seasonal workers and sex tourists.
Escape is often impossible. Fear maintains their victim status. Minors live in fear of sadistic acts by "customers," fear of being beaten and abused if they fail to bring in their quota (ranging from $500 to $1,800 a day/night), fear of losing their coping mechanisms (drugs and alcohol), and fear of losing a place to live and food to eat. …