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Friday, January 11, 2013

Sex Slavery (CSEC) Myth Busters

Myths and misconceptions about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), color public perception of children in the sex trade and prevent us from seeing CSEC as a real crime. It impedes a sympathetic community response and hampers efforts to identify and protect CSEC victims, as well as investigate and prosecute traffickers. Despite significant advances, many still subscribe to myths and stereotypes that fuel our CSEC epidemic. Thus, Bay Area H.E.A.T Watch (BAHC) Myth Busters is a community outreach and law enforcement training program designed to challenge inaccurate belief systems, and ensure a response as effective as the profitable operations it seeks to shut down.

Common Myths:

NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) - Many still believe that the buying and selling children for sex only happens abroad, or certainly “Not in My Back Yard”. Remarkably, many do not know that CSEC is a rapidly growing and highly lucrative domestic industry, no less serious because international borders are not crossed, and that a child trafficked from China or within California suffers the same harm.
  • A 2001 University of Pennsylvania study by Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner found that between 244,000 and 325,000 American children and youth are “at risk” each year of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g., child pornography, juvenile prostitution, and trafficking in children for sexual purposes); many as young as 11 or 12 years of age some even younger.
  • In the same report, it is estimated that 30% of shelter youth and 70% of street youth are victims of CSE
  • One study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections estimates that 1-in-30 US children in (or 3.5% of all adolescents in the US) have exchanged sex for drugs or money; around two thirds of those who had done so were boys.
  • CSEC is more prevalent on west coast than east coast
  • 80% of reported human trafficking cases in California occurred in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego

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The Scarlet Letter - Our society places a premium on being chaste. Chastity is equated with credibility and many still believe “fast girls deserve what they get”. As CSE youth are sexually active, they are marked with the Scarlet Letter, shunned and forgotten. All the while, CSEC are simply displaying behaviors consistent with street life. Failing to present “well,”or as a child “should,” further diminishes visibility and credibility. Labeling a child as “fast and loose”or “promiscuous” advances the criminal enterprise by shifting responsibility to the child and away from the trafficker where it rightfully belongs.

Thus, we need to rip away the scarlet letter! Similar preconceptions of complicity in the crime existed in the sexual assault arena twenty years ago. It is important to review past cultural transformations and deconstruct current remnants of gender bias, in order to reverse power dynamics, expose CSE youth as child abuse victims rather than bad girls, foster a sympathetic response, and support CSE victims to speak up and seek help. 

Consent - Many do not view CSEC as child abuse because of the belief that the child is consenting to sex. Nevertheless, consent is legally invalid for CSE youth. In California, consent is irrelevant for the evaluation of abuse because a child under the age of 18 is legally incapable of giving consent under any circumstance. What looks like consent is in fact obtained and maintained by fraud, pressure, and/or force, and is therefore unfounded.
  • Fraud. Many children are tricked by “Romeo” pimps posing as boyfriends, offering false promises of love and happiness. Once lured, they are controlled through psychological pressure or physical violence
  • Pressure. Traffickers know psychological pressure works well so they use it all the time. A little pressure goes a long way with this population. Pressure is not easy to identify. Unlike beatings, you cannot photograph pressure, and it is not easy for victims to discuss. Coercion eludes even the coerced.
  • Force. “Guerilla” pimps are becoming increasingly more common. Even so, force is rarely volunteered. Whether or not force is used or children realize they are victims, CSEC is child abuse and modern day slavery.

Choice - Labeling a child a “prostitute” implies a concept of choice and suggests an element of voluntariness. The term “prostitute” is often associated with criminal wrongdoing, and “child prostitutes” are typically arrested and treated as criminals. In reality CSEC are victims of trickery and abuse - CSEC are prostituted not prostitutes. Exposing the reality of “pimp control,” the myth of consent and free choice, and the reason these concepts do not apply to vulnerable and gullible populations, is a necessary precursor to saving children and prosecuting traffickers.

We must always remember that these children are VICTIMS, regardless of all MISCONCEPTIONS. Commercial Sexually Exploited Children are often hard to manage because they do not identify themselves as victims of sexual exploitation. Various factors play into that belief. CSEC victims don’t know what love looks like and are looking for love in all the wrong places. Psychological manipulation and domination creates trauma bonds from the victim to their exploiter, and further impairs recovery and prosecution efforts. Many are unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, and will not testify against their pimp. Understanding CSEC victimology is the key to effectively managing CSEC victims and cases. 


Child Quest International (CQI) will be addressing this issue throughout the month on our blog in support of Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and comeback for our next post on Human Trafficking and CSEC.

Did you know CQI staff is available to make presentations in the Silicon Valley (CA)? Our subject matter experts will present to companies, civic and non-profit groups, profession and faith-based organizations, schools and parent groups about CSEC as well as Online and Personal Safety. Contact us at with the subject line “PRESENTATION” or call us at 408-287-4673. 

Writer & Editor: Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International.

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