Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International, spoke on the Congressional Briefing on Domestic Human Trafficking on Tuesday July 21. Below are excerpts of her remarks that cover the findings of the National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, also released on July 21, in addition to recommendations to Congress from Shared Hope International.
Chairmen and distinguished members of the Caucuses, it is an honor to provide a briefing on the Shared Hope International National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in America.
The foundation of The National Report lies in the assessments on the identification and response to domestic minor sex trafficking in ten site locations under a project supported by the U.S Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The video we played demonstrates the reality of the market places of victimization here in the United States. The footage in this video was obtained by an independent human rights investigator and veteran researcher in the field of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children whom we have been fortunate to work with as part of Shared Hope’s Predator Project. The video reveals how very easy it is to buy an American child for sex – for the right price, a child is available for rent in nearly every city in America.
The National Report reveals the startling facts that at least 100,000 children are used in prostitution every year in the United States and the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 years old. We learned through our research that in Las Vegas, 226 juveniles came before the Juvenile Court judge in just 20 months; in Miami, 21 girls were prosecuted for prostitution in one year; and in Dallas, 165 juveniles were detained on prostitution and related charges in 2007. These are just the children that were discovered and the cases documents – the real numbers are much bigger. In nearly every case the child rather than the buyer is arrested. The minor defined by the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) as a victim is arrested for the crime committed against her.
The arrest and prosecution of buyers must be made a priority across the nation and at all levels of law enforcement. The sex trafficking of U.S. children is driven by demand for the commercial sex acts they perform. The supply of women and children in the sex industry serves as the fuel for this crime. As the demand increases, traffickers must increase the supply of victims.
How do we fight this demand? Innovative investigative techniques, technology, and protocols are needed to combat domestic minor sex trafficking. One example of this innovation and focus in action is in the Western District of Missouri which includes Kansas City. A pioneering Assistant U.S. Attorney in that district, Cynthia Cordes, with the support of her office has pursued buyers of commercial sex with children by working with the task force to plan and implement an operation designed to satisfy the evidentiary requirements of the TVPA, specifically sections 1591 and 2224(b) using the words “obtain” and “entice” to charge, indict and secure a guilty plea in three cases of attempted domestic minor sex trafficking to date. Since this operation netting indictments of seven men seeking to buy sex with a minor, five other U.S. Attorney’s Offices from Virginia to Alabama have initiated similarly modeled operations. In the model indictment the lead count is the crime of “obtaining” a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
What can Congress do? The defense bar is positioning for an appeal asserting the inapplicability of the TVPA to buyers of commercial sex. With no intention of slowing down the filing of indictments, a formal appeal to the 8th Circuit is certain to come in the near future. It is critical that Congress express its intent to reach all facets of the sex trafficking crime with the TVPA, including the demand facet – the buyer. This intent is not clearly articulated in the Congressional history underlying the TVPA. A clear statement by Congress is needed to enable the federal prosecutors to continue to indict the buyers of commercial sex from minors, bringing to bear the tremendous deterrent value of the heavy federal penalties.
The enormous disparity in penalties between a state conviction and a federal conviction make the TVPA the key to deterring demand. Faced with a mandatory minimum of 15 years for a child under 14 and 10 years for one over 14, the buyer is likely to think twice before proceeding with the crime of child sex trafficking. Comparable state convictions reflect penalties in the range of 3-5 years in comparison. Also, federal prosecutors can seek restitution – a moral and financial victory for the victim of domestic minor sex trafficking.
Congress must speak to the intent of the TVPA to reach the demand component in the criminal markets of sex trafficking.
A second issue that is prevalent across America is the widespread arrest of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking for the crime of prostitution. One stunning example is found in the following declaration of arrest completed by a police officer in 2006. The declaration states:
“After watching the truck slow down and the female approach the truck, then later finding the truck on a side street with the female in the truck, through my training and experience I know this is a common practice for prostitution related crimes. We then approached the vehicle and came on a juvenile (DOB 3-19-1994) and male (DOB 11-4-1959) involved in a sex act. Due to the above circumstances, the stated agreement for $40 for a hand job, observation that he had $45 in U.S. currency hanging from his left front pocket of his pants, had lotion on both of his hands, she stating she was engaging in an act of prostitution…. she was placed under arrest for soliciting prostitution and was transported to CCJH. … probable cause exists to hold said person pending plea and trial.”
The outcome of this arrest: a 12 year old girl was handcuffed, placed under arrest, and transported to the juvenile detention facility in Las Vegas. The man, nearly 48 years old, was allowed to drive away.
Our research revealed hundreds of children arrested, charged and prosecuted for prostitution, despite their status as minors and, therefore, as victims of child sex trafficking. Appropriate protective shelter and services are critical for the protection and restoration of child sex trafficking victims – but they do not exist.
What can Congress do? There are two actions Congress can take to overcome this primary barrier to the proper response to the victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. First, Congress must appropriate the federal funds authorized in the TVPA for services and pilot shelters in the TVPA. You have the opportunity and obligation to send a strong message to the fifty states that Congress intends for these children to be treated as victims and be given the all of the services and justice which the TVPA provides. The dichotomy between the funded and provided services and shelter for foreign victims and those mandated but not funded for domestic victims must be cured. We are providing greater protection and care for non-citizens than for our own children.
The second key action Congress can take to remedy the failure to protect the young victims of domestic minor sex trafficking is to tie standards of protection and services for the protected class of domestic minor sex trafficking victims to current federal funding streams to the states. Congress can ensure the proper victim rights and treatment for the child sex trafficking victim by requiring certain standards of care and the development and provision of certain protections for the victims through conditioning federal funding to states.
To help guide the states in this endeavor, the federal government can promote the enactment of legislation similar to the newly enacted New York Safe Harbor Act which decriminalizes a juvenile who comes before the court for the first time on a prostitution charge and instead classifies the youth as a child in need of supervision, providing services and appropriate shelter.
The lack of appropriate shelter is cited as the biggest problem first responders face in protecting the child victims of sex trafficking and prevents further advancements in breaking the cycle of violence and victimization the child sex trafficking victim faces. Those first responders who want to help feel they cannot as their only options are a runaway youth shelter or juvenile detention without a safe, secure facility to protect these children.
We urge you to take aggressive action to protect our nation’s children, providing them with the safety to live and to grow and to follow their dreams.
Please visit http://www.sharedhope.org for more information on our current National Awareness Campaign.