Sunday, January 18, 2009

Domestic Trafficking, Unicorns, and Faeries

If you live in the United States, depending upon which State you are in, domestic sex trafficking is probably overlooked or unrecognized. It's a national problem. It's not because it doesn't exist - its for much more insidious reasons. In New York and Texas, its a clearly recognized problem. New York has passed specific laws to ensure the safety and services of victims. Texas, particularly Houston and Dallas have taken measures to better identify victims, arrest traffickers, and properly prosecute cases of human trafficking. So, what about other States?

Well, it gets tricky. On a macro level, the United States generates the singular document used internationally to determine the level of effectiveness each country exercises in its anti-human trafficking efforts. Each year, the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) is generated through the US State Department and the report contains every country in the world - except the United States.

Until recently, the United States had only really considered human trafficking to an international issue. Our first estimates of foreign born trafficking victims in the United States was 17,500. That estimate has grown significantly to a more healthy 50,000 (though at the rate of immigration, this number must be higher). But, domestically, we have overlooked a population that is now (see TVPA 2005 and 2008 Reauthorization) federally recognized as victims of human trafficking - US Citizens. Domestic trafficking is primarily a sex trafficking issue.

In the United States, there is an estimated 300,000 girls that are enslaved in the commercial sex trade. But, how long has this been going on? For decades. This is not a 'new' problem. The difficulty is - it has taken us this long to properly label it. For the past 25 or so years, these girls have been identified as runaways, homeless youth, delinquent youth, throwaway youth, unsafe youth, and most frighteningly - youth or child prostitutes. Wow, when did we believe that a 15 year old girl was choosing prostitution as a career option?

So, how does your State view this population of young girls? Likely, child welfare and youth programs in your State still use an old paradigm to designate youth and still use terminology that is outdated. If this is true, then law enforcement is likely using the same terminology. The end result is that the State is not identifying victims, not prosecuting cases, and then ultimately believing that sex trafficking in their State is likened to unicorns and faeries.

There are three dynamics that contribute to this, but for now, we will address the first. The other two involve having appropriate laws in place (that contribute to a working system) and prosecuting cases (which involves organized crime, the RICO Act, and other elements of getting bad guys in jail).

I am not insinuating that States don't care about these youth - actually, I think its the contrary. Most law enforcement are frustrated in coming across a 16 year old girl that they know is unsafe and being forced into prostitution, but they don't have the needed infrastructure to ultimately help them. Child welfare, DHS, and the court system are equally flustered that they have a high risk population of girls that are unable to obtain appropriate services for the level of safety and trauma treatment they require. These girls are washing through State systems and people are unsure of how to best help them.

Transitions Global is looking at a number of other States and how they are addressing this problem. For the past year, we have been working with law enforcement, the court system, and other youth related agencies to develop a workable, efficient system to address the needs of sex trafficking victims. In the next weeks, I will address the other two contributing factors, as well as, writing more on the infrastructure needed to serve victims in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, I look forward to your comments, suggestions, and opinions. Thank you.


  1. James-

    I'm really amazed by the knowledge and wisdom you have in this issue. I know that may sound funny because it's something you've been working on for awhile now, but in all that I've done in the past couple of months, I've seen how easy it is to get bogged down by "the system" and learning how to work with it. So in the long and short of it, I think the work you are doing is really amazing.


  2. I'm completely with you on your comments. I've had arguments with a couple of people close to me that seem to somehow believe that many prostitutes really choose this as a valid profession. From anything I've ever known or seen, most people who end up as prostitutes (male and female) end up there because of losing all other alternatives, by force, or by through manipulation.