There is a growing trend of human sex trafficking of children in the U.S. with the highest percentages among African American girls as young as 12 and in foster care. In a highly unusual legislative moment, the House of Representatives on July 25, 2014 unanimously passed legislation, spearheaded for years by Rep. Karen Bass (D. CA) to tighten ways to protect the most vulnerable girls from sex trafficking in the U.S.
Too often, sex trafficking or the selling of children for sex is viewed as something that does not occur in the U.S. But according to those working on the bill, the “more than 293,000 American youth who are at risk of sexual commercial exploitation and trafficking per year amounts to a national crisis,” said Rep. McDermott (D.WA.) And these numbers are probably underestimated and do not include those who have already been placed into sex trafficking rings. And the issue is one that unfortunately affects African American girls in a disproportionate manner. 35% of confirmed sex trafficking victims are African Americans although the total African American population in the U.S. is only 12%. Often times the girls are arrested as prostitutes when in fact they are victims.
While on a telephone conference call with Rep. Bass prior to the passing of the “Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2014,” she said that in Los Angeles, many gangs are diversifying with drug trafficking and moving on to child sex trafficking with many victims as young as 12 years old. And one disturbing fact is that in Los Angeles, statistics show that over 60% of the girls who are trafficked are in foster care and 92% are African American. And Ohio, while the 7th largest state is the 5th leading state for human child sex trafficking. Most are coming from foster care as if foster care children are being used as the supply chain for trafficking.
The purpose of the legislation will be to strengthen the child welfare agencies to address and recognize the issues and provide them with procedures and training. It is just the first step to provide education to the child welfare agencies across the country.
The bill will assist local communities to identify the red flags of run aways or potential runaways and to find ways to cooperatively work with schools, churches and community leaders to respond. The sex traffickers should not be the first ones to identify these girls and use them for their own purpose.
What the bill will do is provide several tools to strengthen the child welfare system’s response to child sex trafficking by ensuring each state develops a child protection plan with:
Provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports involving children known or suspected to be victims of trafficking; Training plans for child protective service workers to appropriately respond to reports of child trafficking;
- Policies and procedures to connect child victims to public or private specialized services.
- Further, this bill would ensure that states submit an annual report on the number of children identified as victims of trafficking within the already existing National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems.
- Finally, the Department of Human Services will be required to submit a report to Congress outlining the prevalence and type of child trafficking nationwide as well as the current barriers to serving child victims comprehensively.
There is now a hotline for sex trafficking tips at 1-800-843-5678. The legislation now moves on the Senate where there is a similar bill pending sponsored by Senators Portman and Schuman. It is expected to pass.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who regularly speaks on gender and race. She is a Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center contributor.