by Roberta Humphries, Executive Director
As you drive around Fayetteville/Cumberland County you may be noticing these billboards and wondering what is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and why should I care?
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within United States borders through prostitution, pornography and /or erotic entertainment. It is:
- Child sex slavery
- Prostitution of children
- Demand driven and the product for sale is local (domestic) children
Every night thousands of children walk the street of U.S. cities prostituting themselves, caught up in a vicious cycle of abuse. They come from cities, small towns, and rural areas of every corner of our country. They have run away from sexually or physically abusive family situations or from the pressures and problems that are so common to many of our teens and adolescents. They have been lured away from their homes by false promises of new and exciting lives. Some victims are forced, defrauded or coerced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. Some have even been kidnapped. What these children have found is a life that in no way reflects the glamour that Hollywood would want us to believe is the life of prostitution in such films such as “Pretty Woman” and “Showgirls”. Instead, they are victims of abuse and degradation that would horrify most people.
- Child exploitation is a five billion dollar ($5,000,000,000) per year international industry.
- The majority of victims are between the ages of 12 – 14 years old.
- Children as young as 10 are actively recruited for sexual exploitation or pornography.
- Exploited children come from a wide variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds and represent a cross-section of urban, suburban, and rural youth.
- There are more than two and a half million runaway and throwaway youth on the streets of our nation at any given time and over one third of those left home due to sexual abuse.
- The sex industry is about power, and the predators stalking these victims avoid anyone who may be uncontrollable or dangerous.
- Anyone can be a trafficker including family members.
Although victims of child sexual exploitation can be of any ethnicity, race, religion, socio-economic class, gender and sexual orientation those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation are those who are neglected, runaway/thrown-away/homeless, poor, drug-involved, or who have a history of abuse, and are within the foster care and child protective services systems. Traffickers seek out the vulnerable children within our community to recruit and exploit them. While victims of sex trafficking can be of any gender, the majority are women and young girls. Age has been identified as the primary vulnerability factor among trafficked children. Children and adolescents are primary targets, particularly in the 12-14 age groups. Youth in these age groups have less life experience and fewer coping mechanisms to protect them from trafficker’s advances.
Traffickers/pimps/recruiters can be anyone who benefits from the commercial sexual exploitation of a youth/minor (under 18 years old), or facilitates the commercial sexual exploitation of a youth/minor. Traffickers/pimps/recruiters can be anyone (boyfriend, father, mother, brother, uncle, even a peer), of any gender, age, or ethnicity, and are not always organized criminals. They can be other students or gang members who manipulate the victims’ weaknesses during recess, after school, at parties, the mall, library, bus stop, school events etc. There is no limit as to where the traffickers will go to recruit. Recruiters often force, coerce, seduce and befriend children into commercial sexual exploitation. People are usually drawn to it by the idea of making fast money with no real awareness of what they are going to have to do in order to make that fast money. Traffickers are attracted to North Carolina and our area due to favorable factors of tourism, agricultural base, international population, military presence and multiple interstate highways. The buyers or “Johns” are the demand side of domestic minor sex trafficking that perpetuates this horrible crime against children. The alarming rate of requests for child prostitutes is directly responsible for the fact that the average age of a prostituted child victim across the United States is 12 years old. As more customers request younger children the more the traffickers recruit and coerce younger and younger children to meet the demand. It is imperative that we educate the community to understand what the full implications are when someone makes a decision to purchase sex from children.
Commercial sexual exploitation victims often feel that they have no safe place to turn. Most victims are isolated from family and friends, and are in captivity or confinement. They may feel fear, shame, self-blame, or hopelessness. Due to isolation, they may also be dependent upon the pimp/trafficker. Many times, prostituted youth have been groomed by pimps to distrust support systems and law enforcement, and they are not aware of existing services. Victims are regularly subjected to threats, physical/sexual/psychological abuse, and live in fear of their pimps/traffickers.
Some red flags that are often seen in trafficked minors include: gaps in their stories, reluctance to discuss how they make money and where they live, dependent on a “friend” or co-worker to answer questions, no cohesive story about where their parents/guardians are, living with distant relatives, not attending school, falling asleep in school, no access to identification papers, tattoos or other branding marks, traveling with an older male, unkempt appearance with signs of malnutrition, unwillingness to have eye contact, living quarters with peculiar security and signs of violence, bruises, cuts, or burns.
You can help by learning and observing the signs of DMST, by educating others about DMST, by reporting to local law enforcement immediately if you suspect that you have come into contact with a child that is being trafficked, by advocating for tougher laws, ordinances and enforcement, and by joining the Cumberland County Community Coalition on Child Sexual Abuse. Information about the Coalition is available at http://www.childadvocacycenter.com/domestic-minor-sex-trafficking-outreach-support/ or at 910-486-9700.