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Child Trafficking in the United States

Boone’s Surrender, my latest book in the Burnt River Contemporary Western Romance series. The series is set in the beautiful states of Montana and Idaho and includes a subplot about child trafficking. My research necessitated completing considerable research on the subject. What I learned was powerful enough to prepare a blog post as this isn’t just a foreign problem. I hope this is enlightening on an ongoing, serious subject.

Child trafficking is about preying on the helplessness and vulnerability of children for sexual exploitation. Per the Federal Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, any child younger than 18 who is induced to engage in commercial sexual activity is a victim of sex trafficking. Child trafficking for sexual exploitation includes prostitution, pornography, sexual activity exchanged for anything of value, and any commercial sexual activity with a minor.

Prevalence

According to the Montana Attorney General’s Office, approximately 300,000 children in the US are trafficked for sex every year. In fact, 77% of adult prostitutes were brought into the trade when they were children. Statistically, one in three teens on the street are lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours. The typical age a girl enters the industry is 12 to 14, and it’s estimated that fewer than 2 percent will ever get out of it.

Child trafficking has exploded in the US in recent years and has even drifted into Montana and Idaho. In 2012, Clifton Oliver pleaded guilty to running a sex business with minors in Missoula and Kalispell Montana. So far, this year, 2017, there have been 5 reported cases of children trafficked in Montana. But, it’s a highly unreported crime because victims don’t usually come forward.

For Idaho this year, 2017, there have been 3 cases of minors trafficked. Again, these are only the cases that have been reported. In January of this year, 2017, Idaho won its first conviction under the federal sex trafficking statute. Michael Wade was sentenced to 20 years for trafficking a 15-year-old girl in Boise Idaho. Also, several counties on the Oregon-Idaho border participated in a sting operation, resulting in the arrest of 15 people, twelve of them lived in Idaho’s Treasure Valley.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking is another form of modern-day slavery, which includes involuntary child labor. Victims of labor trafficking include children as young as five years old who harvest crops and raise animals in fields, packing plants, orchards, and nurseries. Victims of this form of trafficking include U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, and foreign nationals with temporary work visas. Unfortunately, child labor trafficking has also spread to Montana and Idaho.  

New Sex Trafficking Laws

The American Center for Law and Justice and Shared Hope International evaluate state laws and in 2015, they rated Montana’s sex trafficking laws with an A. The previous years, 2014 and 2013, Montana got a D rating and an F in 2012 and 2011. This big improvement is due to a 2015 Montana legislative change to not prosecute underage victims of human trafficking for prostitution or other nonviolent offenses. The same bill that decriminalized the acts of minors when they were being trafficked also created the affirmative defense, which identifies them as victims, even if they committed illegal acts while they were trafficked. It keeps them safe from criminal prosecution and they’re eligible to receive victim services in the state. Human trafficking cases in Montana increased between 2015 and 2016, and the number of juveniles rescued grew by 400 percent.

Idaho also made changes. In 2006, a new law was passed in Idaho that increased penalties for prostitution and slave labor when linked to human trafficking. Now human traffickers in Idaho can be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Role the FBI Plays

The FBI plays a big part in stopping child sex trafficking through Operation Cross Country, an annual part of the FBI’s Innocence Lost National Initiative. Since the program began it’s been responsible for finding and rescuing over 6,500 children from child sex trafficking and enabled the prosecution of countless traffickers, more than 30 of those received life sentences for their crimes. Cross Country, focuses on saving underage victims of prostitution and drawing the public’s attention to the problem of sex trafficking at home and abroad.

In this year’s Operation Cross Country, hundreds of law enforcement personnel participated in sting operations at hotels, casinos, truck stops, and through social media sites like back page.com used by pimps, prostitutes, and their clients. All the minors found were offered services by specialists from the FBI’s Victim Services Division or from other local and state law enforcement agencies. More than 100 victim specialists delivered assistance such as crisis intervention and resources for food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention.

What Happens to the Victims?

Children who are abused or who don’t have a safe, loving home life are at a higher risk for trafficking, but any child could be inducted into sex trafficking. Many pimps target teenagers. Some approach teens at malls, find runaways at truck stops or other places, or they have one of their trusted girls recruit younger girls. Some pimps buy or trade girls, and sometimes boys, from other pimps. There are two kinds of human traffickers, the Romeo pimps, who romance and coerce victims into the lifestyle with promises of freedom and money, and the Gorilla pimps, who use violence to control the girls and force them into sex trafficking. But no matter if they were originally coerced or forced, in both cases the children find themselves ultimately trapped and violently abused.

They are also trained by the pimps not to trust law enforcement, which makes it even harder for them to get help or for others to help them. Because the kids are recruited into trafficking as adolescents when their brains aren’t fully developed, they often end up bonding with their captors or pimps, similar to any victim with Stockholm Syndrome.

Public Awareness – What Can You Do?

The public can help minimize and eradicate these crimes by recognizing the warning signs of human trafficking so they can report it.  Look for children who seem fearful, anxious and depressed. Victims are usually shy, submissive, and show signs of physical abuse. Sex trafficking victims don’t offer much personal information and might be confused about their surroundings from being moved around from city to city and from state to state.

If you have information regarding possible child sexual exploitation, please report to the CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-78881.

I hope you find this blog enlightening.

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Boone’s Surrender, book eleven in the Burnt River Contemporary Western Romance.

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