Recently, in Central Florida, police say they have arrested 60 people in a week-long sex sting operation targeting online solicitation of prostitution. Among those arrested was a 15-year-old girl who met with the undercover officer with her pimp and toddler in tow. Is this 15-year-old a criminal or a victim? Is she a rarity or is she among many teenagers involved in prostitution?
According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a minor under the age of 18 who is involved in a commercial sex act is a victim of human trafficking. This 15 year old should be treated as a victim and provided resources to help her find restoration and healing. In the U.S., there are anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 youth involved in the commercial sex industry each year.
Florida is the third largest hub of human trafficking in the U.S. Domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) is the commercial sexual abuse of children through buying, selling or trading their sexual services. Forms of DMST include prostitution, pornography, stripping, escort services and other sexual services. Twelve years old is the average age of entry into pornography and prostitution in the United States.
The children at greatest risk of being sexually exploited are runaways and throwaways. In the United States, there are 1,682,900 runaway and throwaway children per year. Within 48 hours of leaving home or being homeless on the street, 1 in 3 teens are recruited or lured by a pimp into prostitution. Approximately 80 to 90% of the DMST victims have been sexually molested during childhood. The vulnerability of these runaways starts with isolation from family and friends. The child, like a domestic abuse victim, will often see her trafficker as more of a caregiver or boyfriend rather than an abuser. Pimps will deceptively promote this idea in order to gain more complete control over the child. Traffickers maintain control of child victims through psychological manipulation, force, drug addiction, or the exploitation of economic, physical or emotional vulnerability.
In Florida, law enforcement has developed plans to assist in rescuing these victims out of human trafficking, but express frustration in the lack of secured shelters to place these rescued DMST victims. There are no specific long-term safe houses for DMST victims in Florida. This lack of secured safe houses has caused inappropriate placement of victims in juvenile detention facilities. A return to the victims home is not always the best placement for a DMST victim due to sexual abuse that led to the victim running away in the first place. Also, the trafficker likely knows the child’s home address and will simple recapture her.
Flight to Light Foundation is a non profit organization that hopes to bring awareness and education of the danger of human trafficking within our communities to the citizens of Central Florida to reduce the number of victims, help identify victims around us, and to offer a safe and loving refuge for victims of this heinous crime. We are currently working on raising funds to open a 6-bed safe home for these victims. You can find out more on what we are doing and how you can be a part of it at www.flighttolight.net.
Also, if you or someone you know is involved in human sex trafficking, please let them know that there is help for them through Flight to Light and also through COUNSELING SERVICES. Our desire is not to shame you in any way but to walk with you on a journey of safety and healing. In the moment, it may seem overwhelming but it is not hopeless. Please CONTACT THIS OFFICE to arrange a complimentary counseling consultation so we can share that there is hope and how we can help you right where you are at.
Author: Shannon Higgins and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org