3 – Children in Human Trafficking

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak discuss the various ways children can be trafficked.  They go over the basic terms of what human trafficking is as well as what it looks like when youth are being exploited and how we can better protect youth.

Key Points

  • More than 50% of victims globally are children. We need to better understand who those victims are and why they are victims in order to effectuate better prevention strategies.
  • A new term, Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, better defines the entirety of the issue. In the past, this has been referred to as “child prostitutes”, but that term implies “I decided to sell myself” when in actuality, vulnerable children are being exploited.
  • It’s significant to understand that money doesn’t even have to exchange hands for this to be identified as exploitation. Just the promise to a child of money, goods, or services can define that exploitation as a commercial sex act.
  • State to state, the laws vary where children can be arrested for juvenile prostitution and labeled a perpetrator, making it more difficult to rehabilitate children that are victims of commercial sex exploitation.


[Note from the Ending Human Trafficking podcast team: This episode was recorded in 2011 so the contact information provided is no longer accurate. Please refer endinghumantrafficking.org/contact for the correct contact information to get in touch with the EHT podcast.]

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Dave [00:00:00] You are listening to the ending human trafficking podcast. This is episode number three, recorded in May 2011. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:29] And I’m Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:30] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking.

Sandie [00:00:38] Today, we’re going to look at a review of the basics of what is human trafficking so that we can identify it in our local communities and specifically look at what it looks like when it involves youth who are being sexually exploited.

Dave [00:00:54] And this is a really difficult issue, unfortunately, Sandie, as many of the topics are that we are talking about in this podcast, because, when we talk about children it’s such a complicated issue and it’s such a heartbreaking issue. And yet it is so much a huge part of this issue that it’s something that we really do need to talk about. And you can’t really understand human trafficking if you don’t understand the way that kids play into this.

Sandie [00:01:25] Well, in our Department of Justice statistics, our State Department Global Trafficking in Persons statistics, they all show that more than 50 percent of victims globally are children. So, it’s to be expected that we’re going to encounter children who are victims of trafficking in our own country because we are working on this here and finding victims. But I think the most shocking part is to find out that those kids that are being exploited sexually are kids who were born here. They could be from your neighborhood. They could be from my neighborhood. And it’s so important for us to be able to identify at-risk kids so we can do prevention and identify kids who are right now in some kind of exploitative circumstance so that we can intervene and get them out.

Dave [00:02:16] And before we go much further, we should thank those of you who are out there who have listened to the first couple of episodes of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast and for the wonderful feedback you’ve all given us thus far. We’re glad to have been able to get this podcast started and off the ground. And we’d love to hear from you as well if we haven’t heard from you already, and you’d love to give us some feedback or if you have a comment or suggestion about the show or if you have a question for a future podcast that you’d like either me or Sandie to address, we’d be happy to. There’s a couple of ways to reach us. One way is to contact us by email, and that’s at the Global Center for Women and Justice E-mail address at Vanguard University.

Sandie [00:02:57] That’s gcwj@Vanguard.edu

Dave [00:03:05] And the other way to contact us is through our phone number, which is 714-556-3610 extension 2242. That’s the number for the Global Center for Women and Justice. I was making fun of how you were saying “w” by the way earlier. Where was that w accent from?

Sandie [00:03:26] I don’t know. I’ve lived all over. Maybe I picked it up in Greece.

Dave [00:03:31] Could be. So, if you’d like to reach us with a comment or question, that’s how to do it. And also, you can reach us on Facebook as well and just search for the Global Center for Women and Justice and you will find us. And before jumping in and getting started and talking specifically about children and trafficking, Sandie, would you take a moment just for those who may not have listened to the first couple episode, just a brief reminder of what is human trafficking and dhow that plays out today?

Sandie [00:04:01] The elements of human trafficking can be categorized into three different columns: an action, a means, and a purpose. So, someone recruits, harbors, transports, provides or obtains another human being through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex acts or labor and services. Now, that force, fraud, and coercion is sometimes difficult to identify. We may not see someone actually being beaten or held in a locked room, but we will see the evidence of coercion in the fear that keeps someone enslaved. Someone else has the power over their documents, over their family, there are threats against them with harm or death threats. And they feel they have no recourse, no one will help them. They may be here in the country without documents and they may be afraid to ask for help. Consequently, the use of force, fraud, or coercion is those elements that really define when something is beyond just normal- there is no normal when people are exploiting other people- but it moves into the area of slavery. And that can look like debt bondage, it can look like a servile marriage, it doesn’t have to always be someone locked in a room, but it can be someone that looks like they have free movement and they don’t.

Dave [00:05:37] And I remember our conversation from the last couple of episodes that certainly there are some things that we traditionally think of when we think of exploitation and slavery that enter our minds. But as you were just mentioning, there are also a lot of things that we may not think of as “traditional slavery” or trafficking that on their face may not look like that, but in fact, really are someone who’s being exploited. And then there are so many, unfortunately, so many ways that that emerges, that there’s almost too many to track these days.

Sandie [00:06:10] And it can show itself in all kinds of industries, in farm labor, there’s a big case right now here in the United States of victims from Thailand that were human trafficking victims. You can see it in the service industry, in hotels and restaurants. You can see it in domestic services, in homes where the labor, we find out is actually slave labor. But you also see it in commercial sexual exploitation, you see it on the streets and on the Internet where people are selling commercial sex acts with women, men, and children. And some of those children are not brought from overseas, but they are kids from our own neighborhoods. So, how do we identify? It’s very easy to say, oh, that child doesn’t speak English and I’m concerned. But when that child looks like they fit in the neighborhood, how do you identify them?

Dave [00:07:10] I think that’s one of the things that are to me, living here in Southern California, both surprising and also very sad and scary all at the same time. And I know that this is my mind, just my script of how I see the world. But I like to believe that these things are things that happen to people a long way away. Not that that makes it better by any means, but that these people aren’t in our neighborhoods, aren’t here in Southern California. And of course, the reality is, is that it is an issue here, just like it is anywhere. And it very well can be our children, and the people we know, and even the people who live in our neighborhoods. I know for me there’s a balance between certainly we don’t want to look at the world as you know, everyone’s out to harm us because that’s certainly not true. But at the same time, we also want to have an awareness that this does happen and to really educate ourselves. Which is what the Center is trying to do so much, which is to study these issues to be an informed citizen, and to not only be aware ourselves but to be able to help others and be able to be an advocate to help end this issue.

Sandie [00:08:34] And that’s really important. So, understanding what the framework looks like, that action and the means and the purpose. One of the things, when it involves children, that the law provides for us is we don’t have to prove force, fraud, or coercion. If they’re under the age of 18, the law is going to protect them. So, we’re going to have resources and we just need to know what to say and what to do to be an advocate.

Dave [00:08:58] Sure.

Sandie [00:08:59] So, knowing that this is if you see something that looks suspicious, you call the 888-373-7888 National Human Trafficking Resource Center. And then they follow up and there’s an investigation. Those investigations sometimes take a long time. But with this law, we have the resources to follow up on that. Just a few weeks ago, there was a bust in San Diego that resulted in over 85 arrests for child sex trafficking.

Dave [00:09:33] Wow.

Sandie [00:09:33] That was an 18-month investigation. So, it takes a long time to find the perpetrators and to gather the kind of evidence that we need to be able to prosecute based on this model of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. I think the other thing, too, is we need to understand who those victims are and why are they victims. And so, what I’d kind of like to talk about is where those victims come from. It seems that when we talk about child victims of trafficking, we watch documentaries and we see things like the slave next door. And I’m sure everybody out there has watched at least one documentary. And it still is a little bit like the media-driven Hollywood version. What does it look like? What does it look like in my own neighborhood? It looks like a child who has limited resources, perhaps has experienced some kind of abuse at home already and is a runaway, is a child with abuse history already. And so is looking for a way out of their circumstance. And they may be very, very vulnerable to someone who says, “oh, I have a way for you to escape this.” And that lures them then to their world, whatever that may be. And so that fraud part of it, that we usually identify a trafficking victim with, is still a part of the elements of trafficking because they promised the kids all kinds of wonderful things, a great new life. Lots of times there’s the lover boy scenario where the trafficker, who is literally a pimp, tells the girl how beautiful she is and wonderful and I’m going to marry you when you’re 18. And so, she’s living in this fantasy that he really cares. Somebody really cares for me, when really, it’s all about the money. And just like we talked about before, the model for human trafficking is a business model. It’s big business, somebody is going to make a profit. And because of that basis, I want to introduce a new term for what we’re talking about here.

Dave [00:12:07] Sure, please do.

Sandie [00:12:08] We’re going to call these kids “commercially sexually exploited children”. Now, that’s a really big term for what we have in the past called child prostitutes or teen prostitutes. But something happens in our brains when we talk about child prostitutes. Something happens when we talk about teen prostitutes. We assign a predetermined set of characteristics to that child. The term prostitute implies “I decided to sell myself”. And somehow with that connotation, how we value that child and how damaged that child already is, comes with the terminology. When I use the term commercial sexual exploitation of children, I’m defining the entire issue. It’s commercial because it’s business and someone’s making a profit, that’s what commerce is about. It’s sexual exploitation that describes the experience of this child or this teenager. And then it’s for the purpose of commercial sex acts that are being sold. So, it’s for somebody else’s profit. So, commercial sexual exploitation of children, that’s the term we’re going to use for the rest of this podcast. We’re not going to call them child prostitutes or teen prostitutes.

Dave [00:13:37] It’s really interesting to hear you talk about that because I know that we had talked earlier before we started recording about just some of the language that people use and there’s general agreement that when you talk about very young kids, I think everyone agrees that nobody makes that choice to be in a situation like this. But you mentioned that something that happens is as the victim’s age and as they’re 15, 16, 17 years old, that some people really have a hard time with that concept of, you know, that person being a victim. And so, I’m wondering if you could speak to that of, you know, where is that dividing line? How do you see that? And why is that important for us to understand that when we’re talking about this issue?

Sandie [00:14:32] Wow, that’s a really tough question. But the dialog goes on in some instances by those who are the perpetrators in that they are the pimps, or they are the Johns, to use vernacular, that are purchasing commercial sex acts from children. And so, there is a sense that, well, they’re old enough to make this choice themselves. And so, they want to support that idea and remove the responsibility from themselves and particularly from the aspect of the purchaser. In most cases, this is a man and he’s purchasing sex from a child, that he then says, “no, she looks like a woman. How was I supposed to know?” And so, he wants to remove that responsibility from himself. But the reality is that the child cannot legally, according to our federal statutes, make that decision. And the responsibility is not on that child to defend themselves or to speak up for themselves. And even if that child says, “I’m doing this because I want to. I’m doing this because I love my boyfriend,” who is really her pimp, it doesn’t make any difference. She does not have the legal capacity to consent. Now, this gets really gray from state to state because we have other laws in our states where we can actually arrest a child for juvenile prostitution.

Dave [00:16:07] Interesting.

Sandie [00:16:08] In some states, it’s 16, and other states it’s as low as 14. So, how do we provide victim services for a child that we’ve just placed in juvenile detention as a perpetrator? It gets very, very messy. Ultimately, though, what we do know is all of these kids that are at risk and that end up in some kind of circumstance like that require special services for restoration, for rehabilitation. Their experience may include alcohol and drugs. Their experience damages their health. So, they may have sexually transmitted diseases. They may have become involved in substance abuse. And so, their health issues are huge, and we have to find services for them. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, we’re going to be able to provide those kinds of services for them.

Dave [00:17:10] When you were talking about the difference between states and just kids being able to be arrested for prostitution at age 14?

Sandie [00:17:23] In some places.

Dave [00:17:24] Boy, that really complicates things, doesn’t it? When you’re talking about how many of the abusers will use the things that they know, I would think, would be important to young women of wanting to be cared for, promises made about marriage, “I love you”, and those types of things. And how complicated and messy that gets because they are victims, and yet the law doesn’t always look at it that way.

Sandie [00:17:57] And imagine being the law enforcement officer making the raid. And you’re here to rescue this girl, and let’s say she’s 14 years old and she doesn’t think she needs to be rescued. She is going to defend her “boyfriend” and may even throw things at you. You’re the law enforcement officer, you rode in on a white horse to rescue the damsel in distress, and she doesn’t want you to help her now. Well, you know, my background is in pediatric nursing, and I remember giving little kids shots that they didn’t want. And it didn’t make any difference that they were crying, I still gave them the shot because that’s what was going to make them better. And so, for these kids, we have to provide for them what they can’t provide for themselves.

Dave [00:18:48] What types of things should we be watching for as members of the community, as people who care about ending this issue, particularly when it comes to kids being involved in this, Sandie?

Sandie [00:19:00] Well, I think we want to look at kids who are at risk of being recruited because they’re homeless. The California Homeless Youth Report came out in February and I was shocked to find there are 200,000 twelve to seventeen year olds in California homeless. A homeless child is at risk for being recruited by someone who will offer them a place to stay. They’re at risk for being recruited because they don’t have any visible means of support.

Dave [00:19:30] And it gets right back to the economic issue. We talked about this being big business in episode two and it comes right back to that. You know, the economics, unfortunately, drive this because there’s such an economic need from people who don’t have the resources to take care of themselves or care for their families.

Sandie [00:19:51] The other reason kids are homeless, often is because of preexisting abuse. They’ve been in an abusive situation. Maybe there’s a history of domestic violence in the home. The child may have experienced sexual abuse. And in fact, some of the literature now shows us anywhere from 65 to 85 percent of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation have a history of child sexual abuse in their own community or home environment. And so, they may have run away to escape that. And now then they’re in another situation where they’re being sexually exploited.

Dave [00:20:36] Incredible the numbers and the statistics that tie into that.

Sandie [00:20:40] I think one of the things that we want to be sure that people understand is that money doesn’t even have to exchange hands for this to be identified as exploitation. Just the promise to a child of money or goods or services can define that exploitation as a commercial sex act. And even though that child didn’t get anything, that was the promise. And when we’re talking about the commercial aspect of the sexual exploitation, the money is often being exchanged by adults in a different part of the exchange process. The kids don’t get the money, which really isn’t part of the element of that exploitation. But it seems to be one of the arguments. Well, she got some money, or she didn’t get any money. It doesn’t really make any difference. The commercial sexual exploitation of a child is human trafficking. It is sex slavery, it is a severe form of human trafficking, it’s a human rights issue, and nobody wants their children to grow up being exploited.

Dave [00:21:55] Yeah, for sure. I hate to ask this question because I know you’re going to have one, but just for those who may not be able to get their minds around what that looks like when money isn’t specifically involved. I know you know of a number of examples and situations you’ve run into over the years of being an advocate against this issue? Is there a way that tends to emerge or a story that you recall that happened, just so we could get a sense of how that would play out?

Sandie [00:22:28] I’ll tell you a typical story will just give her the name Anna. Anna was born here in California, not from an immigrant family because I think there’s a stereotype that this is with people who are foreigners that come here. But this is an average Middle-Class American home. Family is split now it’s her, Anna, and her mom. They’re doing fine, and then her mom’s boyfriend moves in with them. He molests Anna, so Anna is taken out of the home. That’s the appropriate action for our Child Protective Services. And now she’s in a group home and she doesn’t really like the group home. So, she decides to run away, and she runs away during dinner time. But she’s 14, and she doesn’t have a plan for where she’s going to go. She ends up on a park bench. It’s one o’clock in the morning. And there is a pimp who, whenever he needs a new product, because it’s business, he stops and picks up the dollar menu hamburger, goes to that park, and looks for runaways. And he’s really happy when he sees Anna because he knows he has another opportunity to recruit. And so, he makes friends with her. He looks shocked that she’s out there and expresses concern for her safety. Offers her this hamburger that he just bought and says he’s not really hungry, you can have this, and she takes it and eats it. And now when he’s about to leave, he says, “it’s just not safe to leave you out here. Why don’t you come home with me tonight?” And by the end of the week, a wonderful relationship as far as she’s concerned. “He really cares about me.” And that’s the beginning of the commercial sexual exploitation of one more 14-year-old.

Dave [00:24:27] I know that one of the challenges with this is getting our minds around the statistics and numbers, and I know that you feel really strongly Sandie about using numbers and statistics that are verified, that are grounded in the research and that are grounded with things that we know. Do we have any idea how often this happens? Because I know that there are so many things that can’t be tracked just because we don’t know who’s out there, who is a victim. Is there recent research that’s well-grounded that we could tell how that happens, how often it happens, how many people that happens to?

Sandie [00:25:03] Well, I think we’re gathering that kind of statistical evidence now. A lot of the statistics that you’ve heard out there in the past we’ve discovered really were extrapolations from somebody’s gut instinct. And now we go back, and we look at where this statistic came from. So, we moved away as a government and as experts from using those kinds of statistics. And we’re gathering more and more and more statistics. And I think what we’re really looking at now is we can identify at-risk populations. So, those numbers are easy, for instance. I just mentioned the Homeless Youth Report from February 200,000 homeless youth, 12 to 17 in the state of California. Now, that’s a statistic that’s verifiable. It’s something where we can begin to create prevention plans around this. As far as how many kids are being sold every day in what city for what purposes? That’s a very nebulous figure, and I wouldn’t give any statistics at this point. I would give a specific incidence. We have a conviction here in Southern California, and the perpetrator went to prison for 17 and a half years, just a few months ago. He lured two or three teenagers, teenage girls, most of them from some kind of shelter program in other states, to come here to Orange County, where he then sold them on the Internet. So, we have lots of evidence in those kinds of cases where we have the convictions as we build a better collection of those, we’ll be able to give better statistics. At this point, though, what we really want to look at is who are the kids at risk and how do we do better prevention? And I believe that prevention is going to happen when the community recognizes the risk factors and is ready to intervene either with alternative resources or at least by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

Dave [00:27:16] And that number, again, for people who don’t remember?

Sandie [00:27:19] 888-373-7888

Dave [00:27:22] It’s such a complicated issue. Sandie and I, we have just scratched the surface on talking about how kids are involved with human trafficking. And so, I know the next episode we’re planning to delve into this a little bit, a little bit deeper and really understand some of the physiology around it, correct?

Sandie [00:27:46] Yeah. I’d like to kind of talk about why kids are so vulnerable.

Dave [00:27:54] Well, that will wrap up our conversation for today. Before we finish Sandie, I know that those who are interested in learning more about this issue and many of the other issues that the Global Center is s really advocating against can attend the conference that’s coming up that the Center is doing in 2012.

Sandie [00:28:13] Our 2012 spring conference will be Women, Education, and Justice. And that’s March 2nd and 3rd. We’d love to have you participate.

Dave [00:28:24] And just a reminder, if you have feedback for us, a comment, or question, send us an email at gcwj@vanguard.edu. Or you can find us on Facebook, just search for the Global Center for Women and Justice. And we will see you again in two weeks. Thanks, Sandie.

Sandie [00:28:39] Bye.

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