WASHINGTON — Commercial sexual exploitation remains a major problem among the young in the United States, with an estimated 100,000 U.S. children trafficked annually, experts say.
“The majority of the victims that we’re finding who are child sex-trafficking victims are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents,” said Sarah Vardaman, senior director of Shared Hope International.
Vardaman’s comment came at a live webcast hosted by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. The event focused on the reasons minors and young adults are sexually exploited in the U.S. in such great numbers.
“The sexual entertainment and the sexualization of our culture is encouraging a growing number of people who are demanding these services. And so, if we want to look at the factors of supply and demand, then we would say (the sex trafficking industry) is growing,” said Vardaman, whose organization seeks to rescue and restore women and children victimized by trafficking.
The sexual entertainment industry is booming because of greater access to pornography through technology. People are becoming desensitized to what the sex industry offers, Perkins said.
Pat Trueman, chief executive officer of Morality in Media, said the porn industry is a $12-$13 billion industry.
Morality in Media, which published a report in February, “Links Between Pornography and Sex Trafficking,” created a letter to Congress explaining the harm of pornography and asking Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce obscenity laws.
“There is as much money going under the table as there is above the table,” Trueman said. “So this is an industry that some of it’s organized crime, some of it’s involved in money laundering (and) trafficking.”
The March webcast — titled “Sex Trafficking in America: From the Boulevard to Planned Parenthood” — featured two video clips that gave viewers a look into the sex trafficking industry. One of the clips was Live Action’s recent undercover video of a New Jersey Planned Parenthood manager giving advice to actors pretending to exploit young girls from foreign countries. The clinic manager tells the “pimp” to lie to get discounts and instructs him on ways he can continue to exploit the girls for money after they have abortions.
Another video, filmed in a major East Coast city, showed a man on the street letting another man name the price of the youngest girl he had — a 14 year old. Such exploitation of young teens can be found frequently in any city, Vardaman said. People are selling children for sex, and people are buying, she said.
Organizations are helping children and women get out of the industry and informing the Justice Department of the slavery occurring in America. The key is partnerships, said Lisa Thompson, the Salvation Army’s liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking. Thompson works with more than 30 different religious groups to create organized partnerships to stop sex exploitation.
“A lot of our effort is aimed at services at the grassroots level to actual victims, to outreach in the community, to advocacy and awareness, and education efforts,” Thompson said.
Thompson cited the efforts of the Salvation Army in Chicago with the group Partnership to Rescue our Minors from Sexual Exploitation (PROMISE), alongside Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST), a Christian alliance working to eliminate human trafficking and help survivors. Other organizations — including SAGE, Veronica’s Voice and Breaking Free — help adult women trapped in the industry.
“Unfortunately, I think there is a real disconnect for people to understand that children who are trafficked into prostitution grow up to be adult women in prostitution,” Thompson said. “And so many of our services that have developed have focused on providing care and services to the minors, which that’s very good and well needed. We need to do that. But for those that we miss, they will continue in that (trajectory) of continuing in prostitution.”
Thompson believes the problem will continue, because people have desensitized themselves to sexual explicitness.
“We have accepted pornography; we have accepted the sexual objectification of women. And this is conditioning girls to look at themselves as sex objects and to think the sex industry doesn’t pose any threat or harm to them,” Thompson said.
The March 15 webcast guests also included Robert Flores, former administrator of the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Lila Rose, president of the pro-life activist organization Live Action, and Tina Frundt, director of a help home for trafficking victims.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Winkelman is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)
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