Washington, D.C. — With a number of bills pending in Congress to address human trafficking in the United States, the Center for American Progress released a report today discussing three key challenges in combating the sex trafficking of minors in this country. The report was released at an event featuring Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who introduced a bill to help ensure that local law enforcement and prosecutors appropriately respond to cases of child sex trafficking and offer victims the support and services they need, rather than treating them as juvenile delinquents and teenage prostitutes.
While human trafficking is often thought of as an international problem that occurs in far-flung locations around the world, sex trafficking of children in the United States is becoming increasingly common.
After many years of advocacy by anti-human-trafficking organizations and service providers, the issue of sex trafficking of children in the United States is receiving unprecedented levels of attention from leaders at all levels of government, including President Barack Obama.
There are a number of bills currently pending in Congress to address various facets of the problem, and legislation is being enacted in states across the country to better protect children and teenagers from this form of violence and abuse.
Despite this attention and a remarkable group of bipartisan leaders looking to address this issue, the report identifies the following challenges:
A lack of reliable and comprehensive data regarding the scope and nature of the sex trafficking of minors
A persistent perception that the victims of sex trafficking are teenage prostitutes rather than abused and exploited children
Failures of social service and child welfare agencies that contribute to the continued victimization of already vulnerable youth and create numerous missed opportunities to identify victims of trafficking and offer them a safe way out
“We know that children and teenagers are being exploited by traffickers every day in communities across the country,” said Chelsea Parsons, Associate Director of Crime and Firearm Policy at the Center for American Progress. “This is a problem that is happening here, and there is much more that law enforcement and social service agencies can do to identify these victims and provide appropriate and effective services to help them find a safe way out. Sen. Klobuchar’s bill is a significant step forward in this effort.”
One group of young people that is particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking is lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, youth, who are vastly overrepresented in this country’s runaway and homeless youth population. Homeless LGBT youth are exposed to the same traditional risk factors for sex trafficking as other youth but also experience the increased vulnerability brought on by disparities in employment opportunities, increased engagement in survival sex, and frequent lack of even marginal family support.
“LGBT youth, who are more likely than their peers to be assaulted and forced into prostitution when on the streets, are in need of innovative policy solutions that support rather than criminalize this population,” said Laura Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. “It is imperative that all our systems of care, including law enforcement, are welcoming and sensitive to the needs of vulnerable groups such as LGBT youth.”