Rhonda Sciortino, foster alum and National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company, is a familiar name in the child welfare and foster care community. When she met Sandie Morgan, Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, they discovered they were fighting the same battle on different fronts. The launch of this column is to bring you, the reader of Foster Focus Magazine, into our conversation as we connect the dots. So, let’s start with a report from Sandie on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), a form of child sex trafficking.
At the end of July 2013, the FBI conducted its seventh nationwide Cross Country operation since it started the Innocence Lost National Initiative ten years ago to fight against child exploitation. In one weekend, 105 children in 76 cities were rescued from commercial sexual exploitation and 152 pimps were arrested.
Let’s start with a closer look at labels. You may have read reports of this story that called the victims child or juvenile prostitutes, but that is not accurate. First, as a minor they are unable to consent to be sold for sex and are then clearly not prostitutes. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is the term used in Federal law and it more accurately depicts the child and/or youth’s experience. Commercial indicates this is an organized business. Sexual exploitation describes his and/or her experience. The term “children” identifies that the victims are minors. In the July operation, further reports identified the youngest victim of that particular Cross Country operation as 11 years old. Since this is a “business” that is generating profit, the next question is to ask how pimps build their “businesses”? The core of the answer lies with the basic law of supply and demand. Any business person determined to succeed in the marketplace will evaluate the potential before he sets up shop. So the missing factor in the FBI report is the purchasers of sex with children.
It seems that the pimps in this particular raid were doing business in 76 cities where there is demand for children to be sold for sex. The pimp is the supplier and responds to the demand. The next step in the business plan is to determine location. In the recent report, the FBI targeted truck stops, casinos, street “tracks” and websites that advertise dating and escort services. None of these “locations” has any overhead. So the next question is where does the pimp find the supply? It seems like it would be difficult. There appears to be no shortage of supply of children. Where do they come from?
Before meeting Sandie Morgan, I dismissed child sex trafficking as something that happened in other countries. I had absorbed all the pain my heart could hold in my work in analyzing the ways foster kids got injured or killed in out-of-home placement. It’s not that I didn’t care about kids far away, but I just didn’t have the bandwidth to give consideration to kids outside of the world I thought I could influence. Then I met Sandie Morgan.
Sandie Morgan lit my hair on fire when she connected the dots for me between foster care and human trafficking--specifically Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. I knew about the dismal outcomes of many former foster kids. I knew the data from the Midwest study and other child welfare thought leaders across the nation about the high percentages of go into prostitution, but I had never directly connected that current and former foster kids are lured into trafficking by pimps who appeal to that deep seated need to be wanted, included, and to be an integral part. At Sandie’s Ensure Justice Conference, I viewed an internet video posted by a clean-cut young man who looked like a college student, who articulated clearly to his viewers and/or students how to recruit girls into trafficking by using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs! The attractive, young articulate man was an actual pimp.
According to the FBI reports of the raid Sandie mentioned, over 60% of the kids rescued reported having been in foster care! In an interview with Ernie Allen, I learned “off the record” that the thought leaders in this area suspect the numbers of victims to be closer to 80%. The numbers seem to extrapolate out to approximately 164 current or former foster kids being lured or tricked into trafficking every day in the US.
The good news is that in just seven FBI cross country operations, more than 2,700 children have been rescued. The bad news is that even though more than 1300 pimps have been convicted and sentenced, new pimps seem to rise up every day, and those already involved in the “business” of sex trafficking continue to recruit and exploit our most marginalized and vulnerable children.
When I learned that these so-called business people were profiting from the rape of children--let’s not sugar coat this heinous activity--and that one of the most popular destinations for buying child sex was less than 30 minutes from my home, I became a passionate advocate for helping others in child welfare connect the dots and protect the kids within their influence. The challenge for people like me is that I want to run right out and do something TODAY. Kids are dying, their souls are being murdered, and it’s all happening right under our eyes.
There is SO MUCH TO DO, what with the work of educating men about the connection between pornography and CSEC (do you really think all the girls in those pictures and videos are over 21 and are undressing in front of a leering camera operator because they choose to be there)? There’s the work of rescuing the children who willingly comply and wind up with a sort of brainwash effect where they protect their “family” (the pimp and the other girls in the “stable.”) There’s the work of following the money, or in many cases the bit coin. There’s cracking down on the gangs and organized crime who have figured out that they can generate a greater profit from the selling of children than from selling weapons or drugs.
There’s much to do, but the good news is that Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice exists to educate people like me so that we don’t run right out and do more harm than good.
There are people working to save kids. More than 230 agencies partnered to ensure the safety of the children rescued. What we need to do now is to shift from raising awareness to studying the issues and acting on executable plans that will prevent our children from being trafficked in the first place. I wish everyone would listen to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, and find a place to plug into this important work.
If we’re all rowing in the same direction, we’ll prevent trafficking, rescue more kids, and arrest more pimps. I hope every reader will ask themselves, “How can I help?”