Last weekend, the FBI partnered with local, state, and federal law enforcement to conduct the seventh "Operation Cross Country," a sweep of 76 cities across America to recover victims of underage trafficking. This year's sweep, the largest yet, resulted in the rescue of 105 children, primarily females between the ages of 13 and 17. Since its inception in 2003, the Innocence Lost Initiative has recovered more than 2,700 children.
Though even the FBI acknowledges that "child prostitution remains a persistent threat to children across America,” human trafficking still fails to concern the American population. Generally, Americans do not view human trafficking as a domestic issue, but rather something that happens far away in foreign lands. Both the research on child prostitution in the U.S. and the publicity surrounding the issue are lacking. Perhaps we are reluctant to believe that we could be surrounded by such a tragic problem, but that is exactly why the reality of it demands real confrontation.
As of 2010, approximately 293,000 American minors, on average between ages 12 and 14, were "at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation." Children may be abducted and too afraid to run away, tricked into prostitution in pursuit of a legitimate job like "modeling," or turn to trafficking in the belief that they have no other option to support themselves.
Traffickers and pimps tend to target children with a "void" in their lives, who are vulnerable to exploitation due to low self-esteem, a history of abuse, marginalization, oppression, or poverty. Such factors leave children susceptible to manipulation that can create a sense of obligation and dependence on a pimp, which is often reinforced through emotional and physical abuse and drug addiction.
In 2010, human trafficking was the fastest-growing organized crime business in the world. It is well-organized, manipulative, and violent. The resources available to victims are insufficient to enable them to escape their circumstances. Though operations like the Innocence Lost Initiative are taking important steps, they are insufficient to confront the epidemic proportions of this problem.
This problem is everywhere around us, yet it goes unnoticed.
Change must come in our awareness, our willingness to confront and acknowledge this problem socially, and to put a stop to the demand for underage sex slaves. The problem needs government attention, but it also needs our attention, and our commitment to creating a society that does not tolerate the use of children as slaves.