“As long as one person is enslaved, we are all enslaved. As long as we continue to allow these young women to be criminalized, the message we’re putting out is that women and girls can be bought … It’s time that we bring the dirty little secret out into the open.”
The Rebecca Project for Human Rights and the Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation organized a Congressional briefing on the Domestic Sex Trafficking of Children on May 4, 2010. The meeting room at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center was lively with Congressman, staffers, and various nongovernmental organizations, including Shared Hope International. A panel led by three intrepid survivors of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and actress and advocate Demi Moore was moderated by CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux. The panelists spoke out about the sex trafficking of America’s youth.
Listeners heard the harrowing stories of three young women, survivors, who are the voices of young victims everywhere. One told how she had been forced to engage in sex acts with up to 10 men per night, for as long as 10 hours, to bring back thousands of dollars for her pimp. The survivors also spoke of the stigma of being arrested and criminalized; one relating how she had “dated” police officers and other authority figures who were complicit in her abuse. The bravery these girls displayed as they shared their ordeals is a testimony to the importance of survivor leadership in the fight against trafficking.
Demi Moore, together with her husband, Ashton Kutcher, started the Demi and Ashton (DNA) Foundation in January 2010 to bring attention to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Advocating for tougher prosecution for johns and pimps, and more leniency and support for youngsters coerced into prostitution, Moore said, “Demand for prostitution fuels sex trafficking. And I think clearly our system isn’t working.”
Francey Hakes, the Department of Justice’s national coordinator for child exploitation prevention highlighted how coordination is imperative when law enforcement comes into contact with young victims. Dr. Michael Shively, an expert on criminal victimization, visited the difficulties of sex as a modern packaged commodity, coupled with little or no prosecution of buyers leading to systemic failures when addressing this issue. When asked if there was a lack of political will to tackle this problem, his answer was an emphatic, “Yes!”
Legislators contributed to the discussion. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), the original sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act who also has recently introduced anti-trafficking legislation in the House, spoke to the importance of increased resources primarily for crime prevention, prosecution and expanded treatment assistance for victims. He challenged the “prosecutorial discretion” which allows federal prosecutors to decline cases of domestic minor sex trafficking, resulting in a lack of justice for the child victim. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), co-chair of the House Victims’ Rights Caucus, is a staunch advocate for victims’ rights, especially that of the child victim of sex trafficking. His presence confirmed the importance of this issue.
During Moore’s visit to Washington, DC, she was also scheduled to meet with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-chairwoman of the Human Trafficking Caucus, and visit the White House to discuss this issue.