Thorn is part of a large ecosystem of people, companies, organizations and governments working to protect kids from sexual exploitation. To fully address these crimes, we must build and maintain an understanding of the complex life cycle of abuse. Deep understanding allows for specific action to change lives.
Child sex trafficking is a cycle of abuse.
The most vulnerable children
The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is another term for what we often call child sex trafficking. While anyone can be a victim, we know that kids who are homeless or runaways, LGBTQ, African American or Latino, and youth interacting with the child welfare system are more vulnerable to this type of exploitation. We’ve highlighted specific vulnerabilities below, but we know that they are not mutually exclusive categories. To wrap our heads around who is affected by this crime, we dissect complicated experiences into isolated ones and create a series of valuable data points to direct our work.
African American & Latino Youth
African American & Latino youth are overrepresented in child sex trafficking cases. According to the FBI, 52% of all juvenile prostitution arrests are African-American children [Source].
Over 91% of the girls participating in Los Angeles’ STAR Court, a court for child sex trafficking victims, are African American or Latino [Source].
Child Welfare Involvement
50 - 90%
Studies consistently report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system [Source].
Instability creates opportunities for traffickers to reach out and bond with vulnerable children. These relationships are then used against the child to initiate sexual activity.
Refugee & Migrant Children
Domestic data is limited. When refugees and migrants find themselves in a hostile country, their likelihood of seeking legal support to protect their children is less likely. Looking internationally, 76% of refugees surveyed in the Mediterranean indicate they had been trafficked or exploited [Source].
Homelessness is a clear risk factor that increases the chances of exploitation. A study conducted by Covenant House New York, a shelter and service provider for youth, found that 1/5 of the homeless youth they surveyed in the U.S. and Canada were victims of human trafficking [Source].
In 2017, an estimated 1 out of 7 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. 88% of these likely sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing [Source].
Addressing high risk factors.
This is one part of the cycle in which community involvement plays a large role. There are already several organizations working to address vulnerabilities both locally and at the national level.
the role of technology.
The internet has made it easier for children to be bought and sold online — using some of the same technology and websites that people use to sell their bike, find a roommate or look for a local garage sale. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Law enforcement simply doesn’t have enough resources to navigate the massive online commercial sex market to find children and identify their traffickers. Technology can be a tool to address this aspect of the crime.
150,000 new escort ads are posted online every day.
Somewhere in that pile of data are children who are bought and sold online for sex.
Relying on survivors for key insights.
A key piece in developing innovative approaches to combat child sex trafficking is to gather quantitative and qualitative data from trafficking survivors. We must understand the ways in which traffickers are leveraging networks and platforms to recruit, groom and sell child sex trafficking victims. Without survivor input, our anti-trafficking movement risks wasting time and resources — and more importantly, could jeopardize children trapped in dangerous environments.
Stories shared by survivors about their experiences illuminate the aspects of trafficking that are hidden to people who haven’t experienced it directly. How did they meet their traffickers? What technologies did they have access to while they were in a trafficking situation? How did they exit the life? Including the voices of survivors leads to creating effective and targeted anti-trafficking programs.
In our recent report, “Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking”, we sought to better understand underage sex trafficking, asking survivors how technology was used throughout their trafficking situations. We found that, of the survivors who entered the life in the past decade, 75% reported being advertised online. The number was only 38% for survivors who entered the life prior to 2004. This information is more valuable when we pair it with the knowledge that there are more than 150,000 new escort ads posted online every day.
Technology is an asset to combat the sexual exploitation of children. When we harness the best and brightest minds in this field, we can develop new technologies and tools that change lives. We are focused on delivering tools to better identify victims and connect them with resources, deter predatory behavior, and disrupt environments where abuse takes place.
Spotlight is a free, industry leading tool available to any law enforcement agent working on human trafficking cases. It helps law enforcement prioritize leads by using machine learning algorithms and link analysis to surface connections and relationships between disparate data sources. With Spotlight, officers get greater insight into the full historical and geographical reach of a victim’s trafficking situation. Spotlight is helping law enforcement find more kids, faster and stop future abuse.
The vulnerabilities that lead to abuse continue even after a victim has been identified and removed from their trafficker. If they were homeless before, they are homeless again. Creating a safe space for survivors to recover and heal is critical to preventing re-victimization. The hope is that we can create programs and opportunities that not only combat the trauma of trafficking abuse, but also address the underlying vulnerabilities that, if unchecked, will continue to destabilize the survivor’s life.
The Justice System
Buyers drive the market that makes child sexual exploitation lucrative for controllers and traffickers. Few buyers face serious consequences. Instead, children are being charged with prostitution, but there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Children cannot consent to sex. They are victims, not criminals.
When trafficking victims are arrested, their criminal record prevents them from accessing critical resources like housing or jobs. This prevents them from creating the stability they need to avoid further exploitation. New York was the first state to pass a law allowing trafficking survivors to clear their record for prostitution offenses, and Florida later passed a law allowing survivors to expunge their record for any offense committed during their trafficking situation.
Support for survivors is offered minimally on a national level. Local organizations drive support for survivors in communities across the United States, but they are often underfunded and understaffed. There just aren’t enough beds. Child survivors require mental and physical health support as part of their recovery process.
While we’re proud of the results of our tools to identify more victims faster, we know that the issue doesn’t end there. Survivors need a wide array of services for a sustainable recovery – from basic needs to health care to job training. Unfortunately, current resources are not sufficient for the population affected.
Investing in resources for survivors.
The recovery process is another part of the cycle in which community involvement matters. Organizations are working to provide survivors with much needed resources to aid in recovery and to reduce vulnerabilities that could lead to re-victimization. Increased funding for service providers and training for social service agencies, especially those led and informed by survivors, are needed to prevent a child from experiencing continued abuse. Check out a few organizations doing great work.
Improving judicial response.
It is common for child victims of trafficking to be arrested as prostitutes just to get them off the street. We need new processes so that arrests and prosecutions can be shifted from the children experiencing abuse to the men who buy sex. Investing in training for all members of the judicial system will help clarify the dynamics of trafficking, identify victims, and prosecute abusers. Approaches that account for survivor experiences, like the National Johns Suppression Initiative in Cook County, Illinois, can provide a model for other states to adopt.