Search This Blog


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Runaways & Sex Slavery: What You Need To Know

When they hear the term “child trafficking,” most Americans think that it only happens somewhere else, in Southeast Asia or Central America. They also assume that it only refers to non-US nationals brought into this country from another country. Even when they acknowledge that it happens in the United States, they assume that it only happens in big cities, like New York or Los Angeles.

What Child Quest International (CQI) has learned is that it is happening on Main Street USA, and that most of the victims are American kids who initially leave home voluntarily. One police commander said, “the only way not to find this problem in any community is simply not to look for it.” The good news is that America has begun to look. The bad news is that we have barely scratched the surface.

The Numbers: At least 100,000 American children are the victims of commercial sexual trafficking (modern day sex slavery) and prostitution each year.  How did we arrive at that number?  The primary basis for this estimate is the research of Dr. Richard Estes and Dr. Neil Alan Weiner at the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice through its National Institute of Justice. 

Dr. Estes and Dr. Weiner estimated that 293,000 US children are “at risk” of commercial child exploitation each year.  However, they provided much greater detail and analysis.

Dr. Estes estimated that the number of 10 -- 17 year olds involved in commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) in the US each year likely exceeds 250,000, with 60% of these victims being runaway, thrownaway or homeless youth (2012 study in Alameda County, CA puts that number at 84%).  Commercial sexual exploitation is broader in scope than just child prostitution, but there is little doubt that the commercial sexual exploitation of runaway, thrownaway and homeless youth is overwhelmingly prostitution. 60% of 250,000 is 150,000. 

The researchers also estimated that one third of street-level prostitutes in the U.S. are less than 18 while half of off-street prostitutes are less than 18. With the explosion in the sale of kids for sex online, it is clear that more kids are at risk. 

Some runaway groups have estimated that as many as 1/3 of teen runaways/thrownaways will become involved in prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. The Justice Department’s National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART II) estimated that there are nearly 1.7 million runaway/thrownaway episodes each year, of which just 357,600 are reported to police. Of that total, 1.6 million are 12 – 17 years old, and 1.3 million are gone from 24 hours to 6 months. So, eliminating those gone for less than 24 hours and taking half of the balance (the boy/girl ratio of runaways is 50/50), we arrive at 650,000 girls. Taking 1/3 of that number would lead us to infer that roughly 200,000 plus runaway/thrownaway girls are lured into prostitution each year.

Thus, while 100,000 is clearly a very conservative number, we continue to use that estimate because we believe it is empirically sound and completely defensible.  In a larger sense, we believe it reasonable to estimate a range of 100,000 – 300,000 per year with confidence.

Rapid Reporting and NCIC Entry: A recent New York Times series by investigative reporter Ian Urbina found that many of these trafficked kids are not reported missing and that of those who are, some are not being entered into NCIC as required by law, or it is being done too slowly. Nearly thirty years ago, the late Congressman and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois coined the phrase “runaway presumption.” What he meant was that many missing child cases were not being investigated or responded to in a prompt, serious manner because police presumed that the child was a runaway. In fact, virtually every police department had a mandatory waiting period of 24, 48 or 72 hours.  If your child disappeared, the police would often say, “oh, she probably just ran away. If she doesn’t show up in a day or two, call us back and we will take a report.” 

Today, we know that these waiting periods and the lack of prompt response put many children at greater risk.  In fact, in abduction-homicide cases, we now know that in ¾ of the cases, the child is dead within the first three hours. So, time is the enemy.  We must move quickly.

Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Simon and former Senator Paula Hawkins, in 1982 Congress passed the Missing Children’s Act, making it possible to enter missing child information into NCIC. In 1990 Congress passed the National Child Search Assistance Act, mandating an immediate report and immediate entry in every missing child case, and eliminating the old waiting periods by law.

Yet, Ian Urbina’s research made it clear that implementation of these laws is not uniform and consistent.  Too many police departments still treat runaways less seriously than other missing children. Our clear message is that these kids are at risk and that it is important to move quickly and decisively, before they are victimized. 

The Importance of Working Together: This is an enormous problem, yet it is under-recognized and under-reported, a problem of hidden victims. It is also one that requires multi-disciplinary, multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency partnerships like the Bay Area H.E.A.T. Watch Coalition (BAHC) if we are going to make progress. It was in that spirit that we joined with BAHC in 2012with the focus of bringing awareness to our communities and assist the children who have been victimized. Together, we are focused on improving prevention and recovery efforts for this growing epidemic.

Due to improved laws and through awareness campaigns, for the first time the pimps are getting serious sentences from the courts. Some have been sentenced to life in prison, and many others are getting 20 years and up.

CQI aligns our effort with three underlying beliefs:

(1) That these kids are victims. This is 21st Century slavery. They lack the ability to walk away. The pimps who use and discard them are the criminals, as are those who patronize them.  These kids need to be rescued, not arrested. We are encouraged by the passage of the Safe Harbor laws in New York, California and others, mandating that these children be treated as victims. We are hopeful that other states will enact similar legislation soon, codifying this principle in law.

(2) That technology has changed the playing field. Offenders don’t just parade these kids on city streets any more. Today, a customer can shop online for a child from the privacy of his home or hotel room. Online classified advertising services, like Craigslist, Backpage and dozens of others have made it possible for pimps and operators to offer these kids to prospective customers with little or no risk.  

(3) That much of this is organized crime. These kids are commodities for sale or trade. There is a network. They are trafficked, moved from city to city for the financial gain of those who use, abuse and control them. When making this point, we add, “not Mafia or La Casa Nostra, but organized crime nonetheless.” In April 2010, a federal Grand Jury in New York indicted members of the Gambino Crime Family for selling kids for sex via the Internet.” Organized criminals are involved in this illicit enterprise because it is low risk and enormously profitable. Our goal is to increase the risk and eliminate the profitability.

We are encouraged to report that there is real movement and real progress to protect these children. State legislatures are acting. Law enforcement is working together and doing more. The public is awakening to this crisis in our midst. But we need to do more. We are particularly concerned about the lack of adequate resources to help the victims. For so many of the children rescued, there have not been places to get them the help to “get out.” That problem has to be remedied.

Writer, Editor & Graphic Designer: Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International.
[Source: | |]


  1. makes 'gun control' look really petty to me...where are your heads people?
    Can we do something about this?
    Are hands tied at media levels?