Human trafficking is a growing concern for our nation. Also known as modern slavery, human trafficking is a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act. Since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, law enforcement investigators, social service providers, and community leaders have reported cases of forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking, impacting a diverse range of populations including men, women, and children, who are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or foreign nationals. Human trafficking cases occur across the country, in rural, urban, and suburban settings and in a wide range of industries, as described in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report:
Trafficking can occur in many licit and illicit industries or markets, including in brothels, massage parlors, street prostitution, hotel services, hospitality, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, construction, health and elder care, and domestic service.
Among the diverse populations affected by human trafficking, children are at particular risk to sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Although the federal definition of child sex trafficking defines any child in a commercial sex act as a victim of human trafficking, the federal definition of forced labor requires the use of force, fraud, or coercion in situations of forced labor and services for anyone including children. The federal definitions of human trafficking illustrate that victims of human trafficking are abused through a variety of physical, psychological, and emotional controls even when they are not physically restrained or held captive by their trafficker. For example, victims of child trafficking may attend school, participate in other social activities, or have contact with neighbors and community members who may be in positions to help identify situations of child trafficking.
The following descriptions represent two cases from federal investigations:
In 2006, a wife and husband in Lakewood, Washington, pleaded guilty to charges of forced labor after bringing their 12-year-old niece to the United States on promises that she will attend school in exchange for childcare and housework. The victim was forced to cook, clean, provide childcare, and work at the defendant’s coffee shop twelve to fourteen hours a day. The child was physically abused, threatened with deportation, not paid for her work at the coffee shop, and attended school for only a short time. The child escaped with the help of friends and a community-based organization.
In 2012, a man from Memphis, Tennessee, was sentenced for child sex trafficking. He advertised a 15-year-old girl for prostitution on Backpage.com with numerous photographs of the victim in lingerie. A suspicious neighbor contacted the Sheriff’s Department that led to the intervention and investigation. Investigators located a document identifying the defendant’s plans to open a brothel.
Some services and systems supported by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) have encountered victims of human trafficking. Although most cases of child trafficking are identified as sex trafficking, cases of child labor trafficking have been identified in agricultural work, restaurants, and peddling and begging rings. In particular, runaway and homeless youth programs have identified young adults and teenagers recruited into traveling sales crews with the promise of travel, friends, and money, only to have been subsequently coerced to sell goods such as magazines, candy, and cleaning supplies. Crew leaders use verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; quotas and debt schemes; and threats of abandonment as means of control.
Victims of child sex trafficking have been found in pimp-controlled prostitution (street, escort, strip club, pornography, truck stops); trafficking in intimate partner relationships and in families; recruitment from other runaway and homeless youth and teens; gang-related trafficking; and institutional recruitment within programs. Often, child sex trafficking and child labor trafficking cases intersect – child sex trafficking victims may also be forced to provide labor or services such as domestic work, and child labor trafficking victims may also experience sexual violence and abuse. While child welfare (CW) and runaway and homeless youth (RHY) services and systems were not expressly designed to respond to victims of child trafficking, emerging evidence indicates that child protection professionals are encountering children and youth who have been trafficked, often due to a complex mix of vulnerabilities of many abused and neglected children who are targeted by traffickers and pimps.
For example, a survey conducted by the Los Angeles Probation Department revealed that 59 percent of the 174 juveniles arrested on prostitution-related charges in the county were in the foster care system and victims were often recruited by sex traffickers and pimps from group homes. A report conducted by the California Child Welfare Council found that anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, are or were formerly involved with child welfare. The Department of Children and Families in Connecticut reported that 86 out of the 88 children identified as child sex trafficking victims had been involved with child welfare services in some manner. These examples reinforce how vulnerable abused, neglected, and maltreated youth are to the recruitment and control tactics of human traffickers. The examples also indicate the critical role child protection professionals have in preventing, identifying, and protecting youth who are targeted by human traffickers.
Young people receiving CW and RHY services who have experiences of interpersonal trauma and family instability can be vulnerable to human trafficking. Given the consequences of being trafficked, we can use what is currently known to respond in a strategic and coordinated manner to minimize the negative impacts of trafficking on multiple aspects of young people’s lives. Coordinated efforts should emphasize victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches that avoid further stigmatizing trafficked young people.
ACYF provides this guidance to states and service programs to build greater awareness and better response to the problem of child trafficking. This document is intended to elevate this issue and offer guidance to CW systems and RHY service providers, based on current research and practice, to improve the collective response to this issue. Importantly, ACYF acknowledges that systems and services must consider enhancing their practices in the context of limited resources. This guidance focuses on emerging knowledge and practices that systems and services can consider integrating into existing activities.
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