“These young people live in the shadows behind hotel room doors. It’s hard to find them,” said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, a Vanderbilt University professor who co-chaired the Committee on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States.
(Photo: Handout via The Tennessean)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Children trapped in sex trafficking or who are at risk for sexual exploitation need coordinated help from teachers, parents, government officials and community leaders, according to a report issued Wednesday by theInstitute of Medicine.
The nation is without reliable estimates for the prevalence of under-age prostitution, the report noted.
"These young people live in the shadows behind hotel room doors. It's hard to find them," said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, a Vanderbilt University professor who co-chaired the Committee on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States.
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The committee issued a call to action in the 466-page report, concluding that efforts to prevent the crime are largely absent and that programs to identify the activity are "under-supported, insufficient, uncoordinated and unevaluated." Teenage prostitutes are too often processed like criminals when they should be treated like victims, the committee concluded.
In Nevada, an effort to stop sex trafficking has led to an attempt to try to save exploited girls. A new Nevada law, which went into effect July 1, toughens penalties for pimps and creates new opportunities for the treatment of victims, which includes building safe houses for the girls. Exploitation of a child now carries a maximum life sentence in the state.
"What we do know is that it is a big problem," Clayton said. "We know that there are a number of risk factors that predispose young people to get involved with this. We know that these kids run into a variety of different adults in their lives who have the opportunity to recognize this, ranging from their parents, their teachers, their health care provider, to social services, to juvenile justice."
In July, the FBI announced the arrests of 159 people and the recovery of 105 children involved in child prostitution rings across the country.
The coordinated, 76-city sweep involved 230 separate law enforcement agencies. The sweep was the latest in a national campaign that has helped recover 2,700 children since 2005.
At the announcement of the July law enforcement action, Assistant FBI Director Ron Hosko, head of the bureau's criminal division, said, "We have victims whose new normal is sexual abuse. We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it."
Youth considered at special risk for exploitation include those who have been abused or neglected, those in foster care or juvenile detention, those of LGBT sexual orientations, those who are racial and ethnic minorities, those who are homeless or runaways and those considered "throwaway" children who have been told to leave their homes.
The report issued Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine is the culmination of two years of research.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; Martha Bellisle, Reno Gazette-Journal