For the past two years the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Fair Fund, Inc., along with partners in Boston, MA and Washington, D.C., USA, have been conducting an in-depth, field-based study of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) taking a life course perspective in examining the lives of female and male victims with a focus on prostituted teens. The Pathways Project examines pathways into and out of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) via prostitution and to provide useful information to practice and policy communities. The goal of the research was to understand the victims’ perspectives; to identify the factors (individual, family, peer, school, and community contexts) associated with the commencement of CSEC; to identify factors that surround its maintenance and escalation; and to identify factors that impede or empower exiting from or overcoming exploitative situations. Our research included primarily qualitative methods with a focus on integrating researchers and grassroots organizers into the design, data collection, data analysis and dissemination. In the Boston metropolitan area and in Washington, DC, we interviewed 61 adolescents (aged 14-19) who experienced sexual violence via teen prostitution or who were runaways at risk for such commercial sexual exploitation.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is a crime that has only recently received significant attention in the United States and around the globe. While the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the number of children (those under the age of 18) currently involved in prostitution, child pornography, and trafficking may be anywhere between 100,000 and three million (Friedman, 2005) we find that knowledge of CSEC and our public response to the problem is still evolving.
Federal legislation (Trafficking Victims Protection Act – TVPA 2000 and revised in 2008), funding and task force activity continues to bring the domestic sex trafficking of children into focus in the U.S. This includes attention to traffickers who coerce children and youth to enter the commercial sex “industry” through the use of a variety of recruitment and control mechanisms and who engage the children in exploitation in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, escort services, and brothels. There is evidence from the field that domestic sex traffickers target vulnerable youth, such as runaway and homeless youth, and it is often reported that the average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is as a 12- to 13-year-old victim of commercial sexual exploitation. A variety of state laws address these crimes under statutes that often are located in several different sections of the criminal code or in statutes directed at juveniles or families. Statutes may criminalize the behavior of those who procure children for sex acts (commonly referred to as “pimps”), those “customers” who engage in or solicit sex acts with a minor (some of these individuals are referred to as “johns”), those who are involved in the production or the possession of pornography with a minor, and those who benefit from such commerce. But state laws also focus on the behavior of the children and their families and may lead to juveniles being prosecuted for prostitution related offenses, adjudication as delinquent or a determination that they are a person/ child in need of supervision.
The Pathways Project was a collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Fair Fund, Inc., along with partners in Boston, MA and Washington, D.C., USA, designed to examine pathways into and out of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) via prostitution and to provide useful information to juvenile and criminal justice systems, social service and public health providers, not-for-profit youth-serving agencies, and communities to prevent CSEC and increase safety and well-being of victims.
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