There was a time when “domestic violence” didn’t exist. Merely forty years ago, society was silent when women were violated in the home; yet today, domestic violence is strongly prohibited, and programs and funding are in place to prosecute the abuser and protect and support the survivors.
Today we struggle with the problem of domestic minor sex trafficking – the exploitation of America’s children through prostitution, pornography and sexual entertainment. Prostituted children are raped multiple times an evening and held under physical and emotional threats from their trafficker — yet they aren’t given the sympathetic treatment that victims of domestic violence receive, even though their situations hold striking resemblances. How can the anti-trafficking movement learn from the success of the anti-domestic violence movement and shorten the time of success from forty years to…less?
In the anti-domestic violence movement women held the key in unveiling domestic violence by talking within their communities, opening shelters and pressing for laws that protect victims, charge abusers, and fund support programs for victims. Ordinary women in communities, at the grassroots level, raised funds and opened shelters. The very first shelter, Women’s Advocates in St. Paul, was opened in 1974 by a group of women who started responding to domestic violence by setting up a hotline and then quickly realized that what women and children needed most was a safe place so they could leave their situation of abuse. They funded the country’s first domestic violence shelter by sending letters to friends and family members, and by applying for every government funding program they could find.
Women led in lobbying for tougher laws and government funding. In doing so, they changed the way we as a society understand and approach domestic violence by giving voice to the problem and tackling the stigma and the silence directly. We now live in a time where acts of domestic violence are automatically recognized as crimes, and victims have support through laws, legal enforcement and government funding.
Today’s “battered wife” is the prostituted child. Victimized and stigmatized into silence and not aware of any place to escape, shelter or redress, these American children of domestic minor sex trafficking are left on the streets, repeatedly victimized and then identified as the cause of the problem of prostitution instead of the victim.
Experts estimate that at least 100,000 American juveniles are victimized through prostitution in America each year. In America, the average age for a child to be lured by a trafficker (pimp) into commercial sexual exploitation is just 13 years old. Once this child falls into the situation of prostitution, it becomes incredibly difficult for her to escape. She is financially dependent on the pimp, and like a victim of domestic violence, it is dangerous for her to try to leave. The hotlines with information, safe shelters to escape, strong laws and legal enforcement to protect them, and funding to support their survival and healing which allowed the battered woman to escape are critical also for the prostituted. These do not currently exist in the number required for a meaningful response to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking.
The anti-trafficking movement can succeed in fighting the exploitation of children by taking a lesson from the movement to end domestic violence: increase support for the organizations that are raising awareness, setting up shelters, and advocating for tougher laws and government funding, and engage the community networks fully to be the safety net that is so badly needed by those children who are at-risk for trafficking or who have already become victims of this crime. Changing perceptions at the community level will affect the priorities of our leaders.