By Christie Arnold
When most Americans think of human trafficking, few consider the possibility that it is a problem in their own country. Although human trafficking is a global epidemic, it has far-reaching effects that hit home. Each year in the United States, an estimated 100,000 American children are forced into prostitution and pornography, and thousands more are trafficked into the country for commercial exploitation.
Child trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world. It is one of the most common types of trafficking, as up to 50 percent of modern-day slaves are children. There are an estimated 2.5 million children trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor each year, according to UNICEF. Children are often most vulnerable to the schemes and tactics used by traffickers to coerce or force them into slavery.
Although trafficking of adults for commercial sexual exploitation requires force, fraud or coercion, none of these elements need to be present when minors are involved. Trafficking children into the commercial sex industry, which entails prostitution, pornography and/or stripping, is driven by demand. The men who participate in the commercial sex industry are demanding a specific type of product. As men seek out commercial sex with younger and younger girls, often to recreate pedophilic fantasies encouraged by child pornography or because of their belief that such practices decrease the possibility of acquiring sexually-transmitted diseases, traffickers in organized crime, gangs, and loosely organized networks have answered their demands. In this crime, where the economic principles of supply and demand reign, the products being supplied are increasingly adolescent girls. In the U.S., the average age of entry into prostitution is approximately 12. Children have become sexual commodities to be bought and sold right here in our own backyards as thousands of U.S. men are seeking out and purchasing sex with children across the nation.
The forced prostitution of girls is a hidden crime in our country. Pimps and traffickers seek out vulnerable children and force or lure them into situations they cannot escape from. Traffickers target girls from broken homes with histories of physical and sexual abuse, foster children, runaways, girls with low self-esteem, and other vulnerable groups. Often they first pretend to be a girl’s boyfriend or protector, and then introduce her to the life of prostitution. Many traffickers psychologically manipulate girls with promises of protection and affection, and use physical violence and threats in order to enslave their victims.
Although steps have been taken to rescue victims and raise awareness at the national, state and local levels of government, the demand side of the equation has barely been addressed. Little is being done to stop the demand for commercial sex with children, even though it is driving the entire child sex trafficking industry.
One U.S. organization called Stop Child Trafficking Now has a goal that is urgently needed at higher levels of anti-trafficking work: to stop the demand. Their goal is to put the predators, the pimps and the people buying sex with children behind bars to stop the demand.
SCTNow hosts awareness events throughout the U.S. that raise funds to end child sex slavery. The Nation-wide Walk Campaign brings together communities to participate in their Stop Child Trafficking Now Walks, which raise funds that benefit SCTNow’s investigative teams and partner organizations. Each 5K walk is free and open to the public so that community members can come together to show their support for this work and raise awareness about child sex trafficking.
This year, there are walks in 33 cities across the country, including 3 walks in North Carolina. The walks are great opportunities to fight against these injustices by raising awareness and helping fund the work of SCTNow. To eliminate these horrible crimes, the demand for children for commercial sexual activity must end. If you are looking for a way to get involved in preventing child sex trafficking, consider joining your community members for an SCTNow walk!
Information about the Chapel Hill walk on September 24, 2011: http://events.sctnow.org/site/TR?fr_id=1098&pg=entry and http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=166023846811577 .
Information about the Raleigh walk on September 25, 2011: http://events.sctnow.org/site/TR?fr_id=1111&pg=entry
Information about the Fayetteville walk on October 2, 2011: http://events.sctnow.org/site/TR?fr_id=1081&pg=entry
Christie Arnold is a UNC senior and international studies major. She is a human trafficking intern at the Carolina Women’s Center.