Human Trafficking in the United States Using the Internet April 19, 2011 Table of Contents Introduction3 Problem3 Cause5 Effect7 Solution9 Conclusion11 Human Trafficking in the United States Using the Internet Introduction Child labor has been documented as far back as the 1600’s; however, child labor has likely been a part of history since the beginning of time. It was not until the rise of industrial factory labor, better known as the Industrial Revolution, that child labor began to be associated with the degrading conditions we think of today.
It was these conditions that brought a wave of new legislation to combat child labor. The combination of the new legislation and great demand for labor created the new market for human trafficking (Nederveen Meerkerk & Schmidt, 2008). Over 200 years later, human trafficking is still a problem, and with the advancements of technology and the internet, human trafficking is a growing criminal enterprise. This paper will examine how the internet is becoming an easy and popular way for criminals to sexually traffic young girls. Problem
Human trafficking is a growing problem that is showing no sign of slowing and the internet is only adding a new element of complexity to the problem. It has been estimated that the number of victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking, which encompasses “prostitution, pornography, stripping, escort services, and other sexual services” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 5), is estimated to be at least 100,000 and a many as 300,000 each year (Cooper, 2010). In addition, it is also estimated that another 325,000 are at risk of becoming a victim of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking (Kotrla, 2010).
A study conducted by Shared Hope International concluded that “children as young as nine years old were being sold for sex by parents or boyfriends” (Cooper, 2010, para. 4); other estimates put that age much lower at about three to four years old (Berman, 2010). Human trafficking is a crime that is “driven by greed and money” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 10) and it exists, both worldwide and domestically, because of the principles of supply and demand. If the demand for the sexual exploitation of children did not exist, the United States would not have as many as 300,000 children each year becoming victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking.
In addition, human trafficking is a fast growing, lucrative criminal enterprise and conservative estimates put profits near $32 billion though possibly as high as $91 billion annually (Kotrla, 2010; Berman, 2010; Tran, 2007), which makes it only less profitable than the sale of illicit drugs (Berman, 2010). It may be difficult to understand how human trafficking could be flourishing in the United States. Research suggests that the United States has a “culture of tolerance” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 11) which takes subjects like pimping and prostitution and equates them with money, success, and glamor.
You will find references to pimping and prostitution associated with all types of entertainment, including music, video and computer games, and television programming. Examples of this are the song “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp” that won Best Original Song at the 78th Academy Awards or prostitution being labeled as the world’s oldest profession. These examples illustrate how validity is given to these lifestyles by simply making the idea of them acceptable. It is this mentality that illustrates how younger children can be lured by the perceived glamor and “coolness” of the industry.
When the perceived acceptance of the industry is mixed with monetary needs or wants, it creates the right environment for potential victims. Cause There are many factors that contribute to the sexual exploitation of children. One of these factors is the internet. The internet is used for both the marketing of children as well as a recruiting tool. Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have been popular ways to recruit potential victims and Craigslist has been used for the purpose of both recruiting and selling of victims. Recent research by Shared Hope International conducted across ten cities in the United States found that the Internet was used in all ten locations as a means for selling children for sexual purposes” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 15). A similar study was done using a Craigslist advertisement as a tool to determine the amount of men purchasing sexual services in one month in Georgia. The findings were disturbing. In one month, 12,400 men bought sex with young women; 7,200 ended up exploiting a minor.
In total, 8,700 men paid for sex acts with minors in one month, with an average of 300 acts per day. Craigslist was touted as most frequently used to buy sex. In addition, the internet is also being used as a tool for exploitation. American girls of all ages can be found on the internet on a variety of erotic websites (Smith, 2010). The second major contributing factor to child exploitation is the environment. Elements like poverty, lack of education, and cultural tolerance contribute to the environment that makes exploitation flourish.
Poverty contributes to a range of issues. Familial prostitution, which is the exploitation of a child by family for drugs or money, has been identified as a problem in third-world countries though many may be surprised to know that it is practiced in the United States. Additional high-risk children that are not having their basic needs met are also targets of traffickers. Traffickers target young children who are “vulnerable, available and naive” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 22) and develop relationships with them to gain their trust.
Young children in these environments are not taught of the dangers of these types of relationships and end up allowing these traffickers to become their “boyfriends”. Once the trust has been developed and there is an element of dependency, traffickers then begin exploiting these children occasionally while they are still residing at home (Kotrla, 2010). There is a cultural tolerance issue in this situation as well. If there is no intervention into the questionable relationship, the child will assume that the relationship is appropriate and will give the “boyfriend” her loyalty.
Traffickers depend on people to look the other way and not question the relationship. This acceptance of the relationship is giving children the wrong messages. A victim of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking was interviewed and discussed her relationship with her pimp. She stated, “when I think about how it must have looked to people, a baby-looking girl like me with an older boyfriend, it makes me wonder why nobody was ever there to stop it, or even ask any questions at all” (Smith, 2010, para. 17). The final factor is the demand for sexually exploited children.
As previously mentioned without the demand, there would not be a market for these children. It is important to understand how the demand is created. The criminal enterprise of human trafficking is multifaceted. There are individuals that seek these services directly and are able to hide behind seemly legitimate organizations that are simply fronts for criminal activity (Jackson, 2004). But it is not just a market of individuals seeking these types of services; traffickers also use tools like pop-up ads to lure men to view sites with child pornography.
Once the men start viewing the sites with the young girls, it increases the chance of physical contact with an exploited minor. One-thousand six hundred and sixty-three federally prosecuted child pornography cases were analyzed, and it was determined that as many as one-third of the cases resulted in physical contact (Smith, 2010). Effect While it is difficult to address the problem of human trafficking, it is even more difficult to accept the effects human trafficking has on both the lives of the victims as well as the impact it has had on society.
Perhaps labeling these victims as criminals, sluts, and delinquents makes it easier for society to accept; however, many do not take into consideration the age that these “criminals” fell victim to human trafficking (Kotrla, 2010). It could possibly be inferred that these victims are the result of our cultural tolerance and then they are ostracized for being trafficked to meet a need that United States has created. When these children are discovered by authorities, most often the children, not the perpetrator, are arrested for the crimes committed against them.
Law enforcement officers are often “compelled in the absence of other options” (Smith, 2010, para. 7) to protect the victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking by detention. These officers feel that at least they are in a secure facility out of the hands of their pimp. This creates two problems. The first problem is taking the victims and turning them into criminals in the eyes of law enforcement as well as society.
The second problem is the impact that it has on the victims by reinforcing the idea that they are criminally at fault for the position they are in. “The greatest challenges in working with Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking victims may be changing the perception of these minors, not only by others, but also by themselves, from ‘criminals’ to ‘victims’” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 9). In addition to the effect that being labeled as a criminal has on the Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking victims, they often suffer from other forms of mental health problems.
The most common issues experienced by victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking are “posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use problems, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 23; Hodge, 2008). These are all difficult issues to treat and require extensive amounts of therapy with professionals who have specialized training in “cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 23).
Although this type of treatment has been shown to be effective in treating people that have dealt with extensive amounts of trauma, depression is still present in nearly all victims (“Sex Trafficking,” 2007). Unfortunately, some law enforcements officers do not have the experience necessary to deal with these types of victims and provide quick fix solutions to these complex issues. Simply removing the victim from the problem does not solve the mental issues that have resulted from years of abuse.
Occasionally these victims are put up in group homes with people who have serious drug and mental problems. This environment also proves to be counterproductive for these victims. Ultimately, the victims end up returning to the oppressor because those that are there to protect them are treating them as the problem and are not providing appropriate solutions (Smith, 2010). Many victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking also suffer from a variety of medical issues that range from malnutrition to AIDS. The primary needs of these victims are the basic necessities of food, shelter, and clothing.
In addition to these basic necessities and malnutrition issues, these victims most likely have additional health problems, as many as twelve to twenty-three at a time, associated with severe beatings and sexual abuse (“Sex Trafficking,” 2007; Hodge, 2008). Victims also suffer from reproductive health problems, including exposure to HIV, STIs, pregnancies, and fertility issues as a result of the years of sexual abuse and being forced to perform sexual acts without protection (Mettimano, 2004). Victims who find themselves pregnant have been beaten to the point of miscarriage (Cooper, 2010).
There is a direct correlation between the length of time the victim has been abused and the amount of present health issues. Solution There is no simple solution to combatting human trafficking. The first approach needs to be education. Public intervention, not government agencies, needs to be the strongest front against Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking. The first problem that needs to be addressed is changing the mentality of the United States from cultural tolerance to cultural intolerance by removing the glamor and acceptance from prostitution and pimping.
Another key element will be teaching potential victims of the dangers of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking by developing educational awareness campaigns, targeted prevention strategies to inform at-risk populations, and safety guidelines when on the internet (Kotrla, 2010; Cooper, 2010). The last key element will be educating those in the healthcare industry and law enforcement to identify and correctly deal with the victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking.
These individuals are generally the first people who the victims come into contact with and it is necessary to prepare and provide these individuals with the necessary tools to stop the abuse and get the victims the necessary care that they so desperately need. In order for healthcare professionals and law enforcement officers to be able to get the care that the victims of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking need, “there is a clear and present need for increased services for children and youths coming out of commercial sexually exploitive situations, especially for safe, secure housing” (Kotrla, 2010).
It was previously mentioned that law enforcement officers choose to incarcerate the victims, move them to a new location, or put them in a group home that most closely fits their needs in order to provide the victims with a safer alternative to their current situation. However, the victims end up running back to their pimp because these environments do not promote healing for the abused victim. Kim Kern, a co-worker at the Billy Graham Training Center, suggests that maybe the time has come for the church to take a more active role to end trafficking.
She suggest that maybe instead of lobbying Congress to do more to end human trafficking, that the attention should be turned to lobbying the congregation. Having the church working together with the public to provide the necessary services that are currently lacking may be the only way for these services to be provided. With the current economic situation, it is getting more difficult to get government funding to provide necessary services when there are so many programs that have received budget cuts over the years.
Government agencies need to provide time and resources towards anti-trafficking measures whether it is through enacting new regulations or making the penalties for trafficking more severe. The United States has been a leader in anti-trafficking measures by signing and ratifying the UN Protocol against human trafficking which states that persons under 18 years of age that are used for commercial sex acts are considered victims of sex trafficking. The United States also has a similar act called Trafficking Victims Protection Act which provides the same identification of victims as the UN Protocol.
In addition, the United States creates a Tracking in Persons Report each year “which measures the efforts of countries, including the United States, in combating human trafficking in their respective countries” (Smith, 2010, para. 39). Congress requires an annual report issued from the Attorney General that discusses human trafficking in the United States and the effort put in place to combat it (Smith, 2010). It is important to note that the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (EL. 10-457), which was signed into law on December 23, 2008, authorized up to $5 million in 2009, $7 million in 2010, and $7 million in 2011 to provide services for United States victims of human trafficking. “The Obama administration has expressed its commitment to anti-trafficking efforts, but it remains to be seen if funding will be made available under the current administration” (Kotrla, 2010, para. 18). Thought the United States is attempting to make a serious impact in human trafficking, there are still major problems with the way that the government is dealing with the johns and the pimps that have ruined the lives of so many children.
There are countless examples of individuals who have trafficked children that walk free and never face criminal charges. This is a major hindrance to fighting human trafficking if there are no consequences for actions. Conclusion It is evident that the United States has strived to be a role model for all countries dealing with human trafficking issues. Although the United States has taken many steps to combat human trafficking through legislation and joint efforts with other countries, very little has been done to combat the problem from the ground up. The government has not devoted the necessary esources to making a point that human trafficking and more specifically Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking will not be tolerated. With all that the government does to intervene in multiple aspects of our lives, there has been little attention drawn to the problem of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking. The United States government has made no noticeable attempts to stop the recruiting of these young children, and the perpetrators continue to walk free. No victim of Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking should be treated like a criminal and face incarceration while those that have abused them are allowed to continue to abuse others.
The Unites States is sending the wrong message to traffickers and to potential johns. Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking should not be treated as a campaign promise to get elected to a position only to sweep the issue under the rug for more important matters. Perhaps Kim Kern was right. Perhaps the answer truly is a grassroot effort that begins with the church and more importantly, the community; however, without the government and the people working together to end this crime, Domestic Minor Sexual Trafficking will forever tarnish the history and moral standards of the United States.
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