Category Archives: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking

From Child Porn to Child Trafficking – A Devastating Trail

By Shared Hope Intern Karen Hoover

The Link

While it is known that child pornography is illegal throughout the United States, the act of prostitution is still left unchecked by many. After subsequent media attention and combined growing awareness of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) in the U.S. (sometimes hidden under titles such as prostitution, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, paid rape or stripping), authorities and citizens are paying more attention to this violent and exploitative crime.  Does a link exist between child pornography and DMST? One quick look into recent cases, studies, and news reports reveals a rather strong link between these two heinous crimes.

The Industry

Fighting child pornography (a growing multi-billion dollar industry) has become a main priority in police departments and crime units all over the United States. Forty-five Internet Crimes against Children task forces (ICAC TF) have sprung up nationwide, stemming from government grants. These ICAC task forces exist to specifically focus on tackling sexual exploitation of children via the Internet. Agents with Operation Blue Ridge Thunder, in Bedford, VA state that Internet predators are tricky, hiding behind the computer screen and lying about their age and intent. These predators sexually prey on children at any age and lure them into meeting in person. Once the meeting occurs, these children are often brutally raped, molested, kidnapped, and sometimes murdered. However, the motivating reason to meet in person often begins over the Internet where exchanging and sharing of pornographic materials takes place.

The Evidence

Offenders frequently use pornography as their education, as well as gain ideas to impose on their victims. The WHISPER Oral History Project reported that 80% of prostitution survivors had customers who would show them pornography in order to illustrate the kinds of sexual activities they wanted to engage in. Pornography is also used to facilitate force and obedience, allowing the offender to blackmail his victims and deprive them of everyday necessities such as food and water. Just this October, a Florida Fort Meyer’s mother faced human trafficking and child abuse charges. For the past two years she abused her four daughters with forced molestation, pornography, prostitution, and drug dealing. Consequently, she deprived them of food for refusing to buy her drugs.

Another case argued in BC Superior Court in July gave Kenneth Klassen the harshest sentence available under Canada’s law. Klassen was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison after the judge indicted him on possession of child pornography and 14 counts of sexual touching of children in Columbia and Cambodia. Investigators found homemade ‘souvenir’ videos of him sexually abusing pre-pubescent girls as young as eight and 65 videos of pornography with girls as young as six in his possession. He has been diagnosed as a pedophile and will be required to file as a registered sex offender.

Even psychotherapists and doctors see the link between these catastrophic crimes.  Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania testified before the United States Senate that the increased use of pornography leads to a demand for prostitution in conjunction with domestic trafficking. When the demand overweighs the supply, women and children are brought in from overseas, therefore stimulating global trafficking.

What To Do…

A prolonged and extensive search will reveal more studies and cases exist that continue to allude to the prevalent link between child pornography and child trafficking. While I have focused solely on children, the same link is ever -present in adult pornography and adult sex trafficking. Unless law enforcement, social media, and mainstream culture begin to curb the increasing spread and normalization of pornography – especially via the Internet – prostitution, trafficking, assault, and degradation of women and children will continue to grow.


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From Pimpin’ to Prison

By Karen Hoover, Fall Intern

Shelby’s Sentence

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan

Shelby Shaandor Lewis, born April 4, 1967, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for prostitution and human trafficking during an intensive sentencing hearing with Judge Sullivan in DC Federal District Court yesterday. Lewis’ family, children, and two out of four of his victims were present, along with numerous other individuals. Lewis’ attorney, Christopher Davis, began his opening statements by asking for the judge to sentence Lewis on the ‘low-end’ of the sentencing guidelines, therefore asking for 180 months (15 years) instead of the recommended and suggested 200 months (20 years). Davis argued that Lewis “stepped up to the plate and accepted responsibility to this issue.” Davis introduced previous cases (relating to different charges not including human trafficking or prostitution) for “equally egregious conduct” where defendants received only 96, 100, and 110 months. Furthermore, he tried to convince Judge Sullivan that Lewis would be “well into his 50s” before he would get out of prison. This, he assured us, would cause Lewis to change his behavior and leave this lifestyle of prostituting minors for commercial purposes. Davis also tried to minimize Lewis’ over 25 previous arrests for charges such as battery, assault, theft, solicitation for lewd purposes, impersonating a police officer, and use of handguns.


The hearing then took a spin when Lewis began saying he was sorry for his actions and for the situation he got himself and his family into. He said he was trying to “help” the girls he victimized, take them under his wing, provide for them, and be a father figure. Judge Sullivan jumped on these statements and immediately confronted Lewis. “You weren’t helping anyone out. You were gaining money from using those young girls and helping yourself.”

Life sentence for a victim

Bridgette Tillman, Assistant U.S. Attorney, read from a victim impact statement written by one of the young girls. When asked how the victim felt about herself she answered “angry, embarrassed, and self-pity.” When asked what the pimp (Lewis) should know about her, she said that the experience and abuse made her “angry and stronger.” Tillman went on to say that Lewis took advantage of the unsettled lives of these girls and promised them a home life, food, clothes, and shelter. Instead he put them on the street and made them work for him while he drove the streets looking for more vulnerable girls. Tillman argued that it made no sense for Lewis to serve only a 15 year sentence when these victims would be living a life sentence of shame, hurt, and pain, never able to get the years of life back that he violated them.

A helping pimp?

Is 20 years enough time for Lewis to reform?

Judge Sullivan offered Lewis time to reconcile himself and say what he wished in regards to the hearing. Lewis again tried to convince the judge and audience that he was helping these girls and “never used or abused” any of them despite when the written plea clearly stated that he was an appointed guardian over four minors ages 12, 13, 14, and 16, of whom he prostituted. Each of these girls was living in his house alongside his own children. He transported them in his black, Ford Mustang and champagne, Chevy Tahoe between Temple Hills, M.D. and Washington, D.C., where he forced them to engage in street prostitution. They were required to give him all the money they earned.

After Lewis alleged that he never used or abused the victims, Judge Sullivan inquired whether Lewis pled guilty because he was guilty or rather to get the trial over with. Judge Sullivan appeared slightly confused and asked Davis and Lewis whether the plea of guilty still stood or whether Lewis was suddenly changing his mind and wanting to plead not guilty. Lewis declined answering some questions and instead motioned for the hearing to continue with the plea agreement of guilty.

20 years enough?

Judge Sullivan handed down a sentence of 200 months (20 years) to be served concurrently in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  He signed the sentence after Lewis voluntarily waived his right to attend his upcoming restitution hearing scheduled for December 16, 2010. In addition to the 20 years, Lewis must provide a DNA specimen for the sex offender registry, which he is required to register for life. He is to have no contact with children under age 18 (including his own children) or with the victims. Lewis must also attend sex offender treatment and abide to corresponding employment restrictions.

Lewis’ last words before leaving the courtroom were “I’m ready to go.” He appeared distressed, shook his head, and took his wedding band off. Judge Sullivan concluded his statements by telling Lewis that if he could make the sentence consecutive he would do so, extending the sentence of 20 years to 80 years.

Court discernment

During the sentencing the atmosphere was tense as the audience wondered whose arguments would carry more weight in influencing the judge’s decision. Occasionally the victims got up and left the courtroom; one girl left crying, overwhelmed by the situation. Some news repor

ters took opportunities to interview others present in the courtroom. By the end of the sentencing, the audience seemed to be in a damper mood, recognizing the consequences imposed on Lewis. However, most of the audience seemed pleased with Judge Sullivan’s decision, perhaps even wishing that he could have sentenced Lewis consecutively.

A pimp’s consequences

Lewis' case will set a precedent for future sex trafficking cases

This case is monumental in fighting against human trafficking specifically in the United States. Judge Sullivan did a great job sentencing Lewis, as well as being true to the law. Those in attendance saw the concerned side of Sullivan when he encouraged the family to have Lewis’ four-year-old son leave the courtroom, stating due to the nature of the case it would be unwise for the boy to be present. In the end, is it fair that Lewis only received 20 years due to the type of plea agreement when in fact these four victims—all of whom were minors at the time of the offenses—will live with these memories for the rest of their lives? Is it true that Lewis will mellow and get away from this behavior once he is in his 50s and out of prison? The case and sentence provide ample deterrence factors to other pimps. Lewis will not only spend the next 20 years locked away, he will also potentially lose relationships with his children and family.

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“We doin’ big pimpin, spending G’s…”: Why is this Crime Glamorized?

A blog post by Fall intern Rachel Moore

Disclaimer: The examples and references given in this post in no way suggest that Shared Hope is promoting the below types of memorabilia. We understand curiosity and investigating on behalf of interest; however, we do not recommend the purchase of such items, which could in turn endorse the commercial sex industry.

Jay-Z's album cover

Jay-Z’s catchy hit from 2000, hasn’t lost any novelty during its ten year run in the music industry. It even costs $1.29 on iTunes—the price reserved for only the most popular songs within the virtual-jukebox—instead of the standard $.99. In a culture where pimps are idealized as wearing bright orange top-hats, luxurious furs and sporting fancy canes, who wouldn’t want to be “doin’ big pimpin’ up in NYC”? I offer two basic reasons why becoming a pimp can be so appealing in 2010, but please remember, my rudimentary analysis is by no means exhaustive. I simply suggest that the promise of being cool and making lots of money can be a deadly combination that has created an enticing outlet for the up-and-coming commercial sex entrepreneur.

It’s bad (that means good)!
The pimp culture doesn’t achieve all of its glorification just from Hip-Hop charts in the music world; the message is pervasive. From books to movies and video games, there is a never-ending list of media promoting the “ghetto-fab” lifestyle. Just ask Border’s bookstore sales representative Margaret Rhatican about her experiences working in a place where you are sure to find the story of  A Pimp’s Life within a series of books about “working the streets.” Just in case one needs a little extra guidance, Amazon offers The Pimp Game: Instructional Guide for pimps in training. In the world of cinema, movies like Pimp (2010) and American Pimp (2000) have received rave reviews on IMDd (the Internet Movie Database), and video games like Grand Theft Auto, which allows gamers to virtually beat prostitutes, are top-ranked editors’ picks.

Classic depiction of a pimp

The word pimp in today’s vernacular has come to denote the improvement of just about anything. The growing world of social networks has been enhanced by a plethora of Websites dedicated to the simple pimping of one’s profile on MySpace.  The hit MTV show “Pimp My Ride” is often thought of in this context, because who doesn’t want their car equipped with the ability to act as an amphitheater and circus-ride simultaneously? Pimping or to be pimped is merely the process of making something bigger, better, and brighter in our daily jargon. What’s wrong with that? You can even pimp your name on I always thought Rachel was a little boring and needed some spice so I gave it a try. Ghetto Fabulous Rachel Shizzle, Master Fly Moore Loco, Crazy Eyes Rachel Flex, and Vicious D. R. Dogg were just a few of the names I found most interesting. It may seem harmless and exciting to take advantage of these flashy “improvements,” but when pimping is  indicated by ridiculousness or flamboyance, it is very easy to forget the darker realities associated with the true connotations of this term.

You make bank (lots of G’s)!

Seattle-area pimp Jerome Todd

A pimp is not only a member of the “awesome-elite,” he’s rolling in the dough. It’s the most secure job in an un-secure economy. It’s “recession proof,” says Linda Smith in her book Renting Lacy, because “commercial sex turns out to be one of the few U.S. products produced cheaply.” Why would someone import from elsewhere what they can find right in their own backyard?  The product is even more profitable when it can be recycled. In the recent Congressional DMST Hearing, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said it best when she described trafficking humans as heinously convenient. People can be sold over and over and over again, unlike the commodities of the gun or drug trades, which are only one-time sales.

There is no denying that pimping is a lucrative business. This is arguably what makes a pimp so glamorous. “The money is too good. It will never stop. It’s like stopping people from eating. This game will never stop,” were the words of one of the ex-pimps interviewed by DePaul University researcher Jody Raphael and Brenda Myers, Chief Operating Officer of The Dreamcatcher Foundation,  in their study, “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago“. Their research estimated that the yearly income for pimps is roughly $150,000-$500,000 a year. That’s just chump change right? Tell that to the trafficker who was making $40,000 a week selling women to satisfy the demands of the gluttonous consumers of sex. Money—the root of all evil according to 1 Timothy 6:10—continues to fuel the fire of this ever-growing market, and doesn’t everyone want to be a millionaire?.

Make it whack! (that means not right)

Rasheed Davis, charged with sex trafficking

What can be done to take the glitter and glamor out of the pimp-life? Change the vernacular. Searching the words trafficker, rapist, or abuser does not elicit the same Google images of fur, hats, and fancy canes as the pimp search, but instead, reveals truer depictions of the atrocity associated with each term. This necessary shift will take time and a complete transformation in society’s ingrained perceptions.  Would a different approach that could act as a catalyst for such a change be more effective? Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher think it’s possible. They have started a trend focusing on positive reinforcement with the “Real Men Don’t Buy Sex” campaign. The Demi & Ashton Foundation (DNA) wishes to eradicate sex on the Internet in the hopes of rehabilitating the cyber-world to act as a weapon against sex trafficking.

Additionally, is it possible to formulate a pre-emptive strike? If so, education is key, and “by specifically educating and empowering young men, it is possible to decrease the number of people who patronize the commercial sex trade,” according to Allison Dunn Burque of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). That is why she created a curriculum that has the potential of “increasing the number of men who are allies in understanding and challenging the harms of commercial sexual exploitation.” Both the DNA and CAASE realize that society will not end the demand in this industry without the strong and crucial role of men who need to say, “Buying sex is wrong, and even more so, it destroys dignity.”

Make them pay (lots of G’s)
The unfortunate reality is pimps exist, and more often than not, they are not wearing ridiculous costumes, and they most certainly are not interested in upgrading your Toyota. It is also crucial to remember that this role is not restricted to men. A Florida woman was sentenced last week to 2 ½ years for trafficking young girls, and her male accomplice may face 20 years and a $250,000 fine (a mere fraction of their income). Also last week, a Massachusetts woman and her 18-year-old son plead guilty to inducing a child into prostitution. As I said, the “cool reputation” and assurance of wealth aren’t the only incentives in becoming the big pimp that Jay-Z advertises. Familial ties to the life, the history of abuse, and coercion can all be added or tangential factors that lead to one assuming the pimp role.

However, pimping today is attractive and immensely profitable. Many of the Facebook fans of Shared Hope recommend sentencing the sellers of domestic minor sex trafficking victims to a minimum of a life sentence. Is that sufficient? Would that create the necessary cultural shift needed to amend society’s perceptions? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I know it couldn’t hurt. It would definitely be a step in the right direction, because no one should be “doin’ big pimpin’.”

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Law Enforcement Resources: A Missing Link in Aiding DMST Victims

By Shared Hope International intern Karen Hoover

After all the hype over Craigslist and the new lawsuit brought against for knowingly promoting the sale of a minor for sex, more Americans are beginning to open their eyes to human trafficking of young girls happening in their neighborhoods and communities. With this new-found awareness comes a new responsibility on the part of all individuals—especially law enforcement personnel. There is a strong need for law enforcement to adapt their responses, pursue deterrence options, and utilize proactive policing techniques to address the crime of human trafficking as it continues to evolve. With the rise of domestic minor sex trafficking,law enforcement seem to struggle to find the appropriate resources needed to deter minors from being prostituted while also charging traffickers and buyers with current laws on the books.

Vednita Carter, founder of Breaking Free, an anti-human trafficking organization in Minnesota geared toward education, rescue, and services for trafficked girls, believes that law enforcement need to stop focusing so much on the pimps and instead target the “johns” or buyers of domestic minor sex. While it may seem easy enough to turn law enforcement’s focus toward johns, the process of implementing this change is not a simple task. More commonly girls, boys, and women are arrested for their “prostituting actions” and put into jail, while buyers go free or experience minimal penalties, usually at most a fine. Ironically, Kristy Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice a recovery program in Missouri for victims of commercial sexual exploitation, said that this jail time becomes a desired vacation for the victims as they finally receive a break from their work of being forced to have sex with a quota of men per day.

However, arresting victims, booking them, placing them in jail, and consequently giving them a police record is not and cannot be the only available solution; yet this is what we are encountering time after time. For example, a Washington, DC law enforcement officer, whom I spoke to regarding this issue, stated multiple reasons for the lack of proper response to victims. One of the main problems facing law enforcement is the general lack of awareness. He admitted that he only received training after voluntary choosing to attend a supplemental training program outside of his professional requirements. He also stated that lack of resources greatly contributes to the choices law enforcement make in arresting minor victims and putting them in jail instead of finding shelters or alternative options for them. In some cases, education, language, and cultural barriers of the victims present a huge issue for inexperienced law enforcement in identifying these individuals as victims of trafficking or providing accurate and understandable options for victims.

This officer also mentioned two interesting aspects related to domestic minor sex trafficking victims. The first surrounds the harsh reality of the situation at hand and shows that even when victims are placed into a halfway house or shelter, if that agency is not specifically trained and geared toward victims of trafficking the victims will often run away and return to the streets, therefore putting them at risk to be trafficked once again. This happens when the alternative housing facilities do not adequately supply the needs of the victims that their traffickers fulfill, such as love/attention, food, clothes, shelter, etc. The second viewpoint asks individuals to determine whether law enforcement or judges should be making the determinations to place victims in alternative housing and shelter programs. The officer posed a scenario in which the police choose to place the victim in a house only to result in her escaping because she decides she does want to be there. The issue becomes further complicated if a reporter runs a story placing blame on law enforcement for not charging the individual and instead letting her go to become a public nuisance.

These are just some of the problems that law enforcement face on a daily basis when encountering victims of domestic minor sex trafficking. However, some counties have seen improvement through their policing efforts by offering training to officers, providing shelters and choosing not to arrest the victims. These efforts are a work-in-progress that must continue to adapt to the dynamic needs of our nation’s youngest and most vulnerable victim groups.

It is worth noting the necessity of shelters and alternative options for victims. Shelters will allow law enforcement to cease placing victims into detention homes and will undoubtedly provide appropriate rehabilitation and services victims so badly need. One such development moving in this direction is the imminent need to pass legislation that will enable both law enforcement training and the building of domestic minor sex trafficking-specific shelters. Currently H.R. 5575, the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010 is attempting to get block grants that will provide for increased training, resources and money that will go toward law enforcement and shelters working directly to impact victims and offer them improved services. America is finally beginning to notice these hidden victims and taking action to help them. Bills such as this one take another step in moving toward better solutions for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.

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Congress Opens Its Eyes to the Reality of DMST

By Rachel Moore,  Fall Intern at Shared Hope International

On September 15, 2010, the culmination of many voices and a powerful idea finally found its way into the halls of the illustrious Rayburn Building. With a knock of the gavel, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) began his introduction, “Subcommittee will now come to order, and I am pleased to welcome you [to]…today’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The committee is hearing Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking and specifically, H.R. 5575-Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010.”

This bill, sister to the Senate bill (S. 2925), was introduced by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) in June and has collected 24 co-sponsors. Despite the pending Congressional votes that day and the haste of a short session, the room was filled to capacity with listeners awaiting the testimonies of the two distinguished witness panels. Spectators even filtered into an overflow room to view the hearing via satellite; while, the most notable media in attendance included: CNN, Fox News, C-SPAN (Full Video Coverage) Washington Post, Christian Broadcast News, Al Jezeera, and

Though not every member of the Subcommittee was able to attend, Chairman Scott was joined by Ranking Member Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Lungren (R-CA), Rep. Jackson-Lee (D-TX), and Rep. Poe (R-TX) for the hearing.

The first panel was comprised of five members, including our very own founder and President, former Congresswoman Linda Smith:

  • Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (R-NY)
  • Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA)
  • Representative Ted Poe (R-TX)
  • Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ)

The second witness panel included law enforcement, NGO representatives, a survivor, and an employee of Craigslist/ their attorney:

  • Ms. Francey Hakes, National Coordinator for Child, Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, US Dept. of Justice
  • Mr. Nicholas Sensley, Chief of Police, Truckee Police Dept., Truckee CA
  • Mr. Ernie Allen, President & CEO, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
  • Ms. Tina Frundt, Partner to SHI and Survivor and Executive Director/Founder, Courtney’s House
  • Ms. Suzanna Tiapula, Director of National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse  of the National District Attorneys Association
  • Ms. Deborah Richardson, Chief Program Officer of Women’s Funding Network
  • Mr. William “Clint” Powell, Director of Customer Service/Law Enforcement Relations, Craigslist, Inc.
  • Ms. Elizabeth “Liz” McDougall, Partner at Perkins Coie, LLP, Craigslist, Inc. Representation

It is not often that so many organizations come together to give testimony for a single bill, and in light of the recent Craigslist allegations related to fostering minor sex trafficking via the Adult Services section on the company’s Web site, urgency for passage of the bill was unmistakable. H.R. 5575 authorizes the US Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs to allocate six, one-year block grants of $2.5 million to create a victim-centered approach in addressing the sex-trafficking of minors. This includes placing a heavier focus on the necessity for proper shelters and services for victims, providing funding to improve resources for law enforcement agencies, such as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) system of tracking data of missing and exploited children, and creating treatment programs in lieu of incarceration for those charged with solicitation of prostituted children. The bill also addresses deterrence tactics to prevent men from buying young girls for sex, including $2500 fees, vehicle impoundment, etc.

Panel One:

After brief introductory statements and comments from the members of the Subcommittee, the first round of testimony began with Rep. Carolyn Maloney poignantly describing the institution of sex trafficking as the recycling of human beings. The position and mindset of the Congressional panel was emulated by Rep. Ted Poe who recalled being told to “get a rope,” when he was serving as judge in Texas, to address perpetrators of sex exploitation.

Congressman Christopher Smith echoed the need for reformation by declaring this issue a huge and escalating crisis. He commended Rep. Speier for asserting that we need to do what the bill has outlined and expand on it ten-fold.

Former Congresswoman Linda Smith brought the first panel testimonies to a close by screening a short victim testimony video and giving a voice to the voiceless; she called her “Lacy”.  Linda Smith discussed the issue of DEMAND for younger and younger victims as the driving force of this market. She implored the committee to understand that those who buy sex from innocent children should receive the full penalty under the law.

Panel Two & Questioning:

The main focus of the second panel was a reiteration of the need for resources, a reverberating sound of how prolific the use of the Internet to exploit children has grown (and not just on Craigslist) and the need for law enforcement to use this same technology to combat it. Rep. Poe said he wanted to the see the pictures of every buyer posted online and done more fervently than the traffickers post pictures of their girls.
The DOJ’s Innocence Lost Initiative was noted for making strides, but they need to capitalize on their progress. The 10 traffickers that have presently been indicted needs to become 1000; the approximate 1200 children rescued needs to look more like 10,000; and the 50 beds available for these rescued victims needs to become 50,000.

There is a social change that is needed, according to Mr. Ernie Allen. This was done to campaign against tobacco and for the use of seat belts, and now we need society to see the realities of the heinous crimes happening to our children in America. As Tina Frundt so powerfully stated, “We need this [change] yesterday!”

Once questioning concluded, Chairman Scott adjourned the hearing with the closing remarks, “This was a very powerful hearing. We can do a lot more if we focus our minds to it.” Focus our minds we must, and continue to take the needed steps e.g. Craigslist shutting down their adult services section, but more importantly, the American people need to re-sensitize their psyche and raise their voices to fight against Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.

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America’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’

“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.”

-Demi Moore

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.

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Why does the exchange of money for sex with a child convert a child rapist into a “john”?

A sex offender is a person convicted of a sexual offense, such as rape, sexual assault, or lewdness.  Our society treats sex offenders as criminals. We try them in court, and if convicted, sex offenders serve prison time. Once released, they are required to register with the authorities as a sex offender. Megan’s Law, passed in 1996, requires each state to have a way of notifying the public so most states maintain registries, easily available online. It’s easy to find out where sex offenders live, what they look like, and what sex crime they committed.  We do this because sex offenders present a threat to children and we want parents to be aware of any threats to their child.

However, there is a group of people you won’t find listed in registries of sex offenders — the buyers (generally men) of sex with prostituted children.  These “johns” are rarely listed in sex offender registries because they are rarely arrested or charged when caught having sex with a prostituted child and, if arrested for soliciting prostitution, law enforcement do not identify the victim as a minor.

Sex offenders face hefty fines and/or prison time, but buyers of prostituted children are rarely charged. The few that are arrested often escape punishment; the few who are arrested get off with misdemeanors, light fines and suspended sentences. A large majority of the men arrested in a sting operation in Chesterfield, Virgina last year were given $100 fines and 30-day suspended jail sentences.  Some states also allow charges to be dropped if first-time offenders attend “johns’ school”, where law enforcement officials and prostituted women seek to “educate” them as way to change their behavior.  “Johns’ schools” are never appropriate for the buyer of sex with a child – this is child rape and should be prosecuted as a serious felony.

Even more disturbing – law enforcement are more likely to arrest a minor on prostitution charges and let the buyer go free. One situation highlighted in the National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking is particularly revealing. Police in Las Vegas approached a parked truck after observing it pick up a girl. The police report reflects that the 50-year-old man was observed with $45 in cash hanging from his pocket and lotion on his hands. The 12-year-old girl stated that he was paying her for a sex act. The police arrested the girl for prostitution and sent the man on his way.

We have full databases of names, faces and addresses for sexual predators in our neighborhoods, but we turn a blind eye to the people who walk among us who are paying to have sex with children.  Why the difference?

As a society, we’ve placed a priority on protecting children from sex offenders and predators in our neighborhoods. Yet we haven’t placed the same priority on protecting or helping prostituted children who are being coerced, recruited and forced into the sex trade. We need to start arresting the buyer and treating him as a sex offender and start rescuing the prostituted child and treating her as the victim. Without proper law enforcement, demand for prostituted children will continue to exist.

Protecting our children is a high priority for every state – adding the names of those who buy sex from a child is an important step in protecting all children from exploitation.

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