Last year, a similar sting rescued 79 kids. The year before, 69 kids. There seems to be a trend... while law enforcement is doing what they can to clean up the streets, the issue is growing and kids are still being exploited and victimized. These child victims are groomed and brainwashed into this lifestyle. They don't just wake up one day and say, "I wanna be a child prostitute today!" They are coerced and forced into this criminal activity as participating victims. Often times they are beaten and drugged into submission, too afraid or dependent to get help for themselves.
And while education is a no-brainer when it comes to prevention, there must be an elevated level of compassion for these children in the recovery process. Many law enforcement agencies are improving in the way they handle these child victims, especially in Alameda County and surrounding Bay Area cities thanks to the Bay Area HEAT Coalition (BAHC). Agencies now treat these children as victims instead of prostitutes, and there are agencies such as Child Quest International (CQI) and MISSY that advocate for exploited children. But the change needs to come from a sociatial standpoint too.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), also known as sex slavery, sex trade or sex trafficking, regularly involves "runaway" children as young as 11 years-old. And while they are classified as "runaways," there is much more than meets the eye to these situations. As a society, and some law enforcement agencies, who react to runaways as "spoiled punks who chose this and can now deal with it" or thinking "they'll come home, it's not the important," we need to reevaluate this perspective.
This false perception is extremely frustrating and one of the worse perpetuated sociatial myths! Yes, there are cases of of spoiled runaway teens trying some ill-advised attempt to get their way (or away) from their absentee or helicopter parents. But believe it or not, those are not the norm. Many kids leave home because home is as predatory and dangerous (at times even worse) as the streets they run too. You think a 11 to 14 year-old runs away because they didn't get a new iPad? Think again.
"Many times the children that are taken in in these types of criminal activities are children that are disaffected, they are from broken homes, they may be on the street themselves. They are really looking for a meal, they are looking for shelter, they are looking for someone to take care of them."
- FBI Acting Executive Assistant Director Kevin Perkins
Many times, these victims leave because they are being victimized at home, and they believe they have found love in the arms of a wolf in sheep's clothing. They don't leave to be sexually exploited, they leave for love. These children runaway for empty promises, and as a community, a society, it is our role to embrace the change and see runaway children as what they are, victims.
If you think you know the whereabouts of a runaway child, please email CQI at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you believe you have seen a victim of sex trafficking, please call your local police department of the Polaris Project at 1-888-373-7888.
Sex Slavery Myth Busters
Runaways & Sex Slavery: What You Need To Know
What is Child Grooming?
Editorial written & edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International