Addressing a subcommittee hearing in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, February 24, investigating child trafficking in America, Chicago's Cook County State Attorney Anita Alvarez confirmed that, "some young Chicagoans are practicing "survival sex" and selling their bodies for food, clothing or a safe place to sleep". Doesn't this remind you of the stories about Cuban jineteras?
The state attorney confirmed that her office rarely charges juveniles arrested for prostitution-related offenses. Instead the children are treated as victims in need of "support, services and a safe future". This is an admirable and remarkable tactic however, one in desperate need of resources. Chicago like Miami, D.C., New York, Atlanta, and so many other metropolitan cities across the United States is in frantic need of man power and resources that can provide trafficked children a viable and safe future.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law had called yesterday's Senate hearing when he learned that over 100,000 American children per year became sex-trafficking victims. The subcommittee convened for almost two hours bringing to light ghastly testimony about what these children have to do in order to subsist. The sad outcome for nearly all trafficked children is usually drug addiction, prostitution, becoming a "handler", the person in charge of managing trafficked children or death.
It is high time that our government shift gears and do something about this at the legislative level. DOJ must be the first to create and execute a national plan and do so quickly in order to save our children. Since most crimes committed by trafficked children in their later years are a result of their lack of skills, self esteem, trust, love, and inability to cope with their lives, they place their entire communities at risk.
As I mentioned in several of my previous writings, only a grass roots effort created at the community level coupled with stringent punitive laws for traffickers, will gain the necessary momentum to free these victims of their shackles. Only this kind of effort will give the children the opportunity to become productive and caring citizens.
So far "the criminal enterprises", as Alvarez mentioned, are the only ones who continue to reap "a fortune exploiting women and girls in Cook County", and in every other city for that matter. "One survey taken in Chicago of women in the sex trade found that 73 percent went into the business before the age of 18", Alvarez said. The criminal enterprises that control child trafficking in America are lead by the notorious Mexican, Colombian, Russian, and Ukrainian drug cartels working in tandem with their U.S. cells.
In the meantime, and across the country there are very limited shelters available for trafficked children. Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), placed the number at 70 beds nationwide. Other witnesses were less optimistic and confirmed fewer than 50. What always surprises most lawmakers is the scant number of available beds in shelters protecting trafficked children. Until the number of beds increases the State cannot provide a "safe haven" for these victims. Two essential elements in the process of rehabilitation are a "safe house" and the "time" to allow the victims to weave through our complex social services system.
As I mentioned in several articles the only solution available today is to continue to invest in and create more long term "lock-down" shelters across every community in America. These shelters need resources such as: skilled manpower, psychological services, food, clothing, and educational tools that will empower the children and provide the long-term rehabilitative care necessary for their well being.
Ambassador-at-large Luis de Baca, who directs the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said that boys are also sexually exploited; however, it is a fact that there is far less incidence in boys than girls in the United States. Ambassador de Baca also confirmed that boys are "prostituted at public meetings places such as parks, bus terminals, rail stations, markets, hotels or beaches", yet are less likely to be identified by authorities. In my research both sexes are rarely identified as trafficked victims in this country.
Unfortunately, most cases related to child trafficking and prostitution are diverted from the courts. Many children end up jail to serve brief sentences and then released. The cycle continues. In a matter of years they are either addicts or dead.
In my opinion what every state should have, until a national plan can be implemented, is New York State's "safe harbor" law, that will give young trafficked victims "services, not sentences", and "safe havens" to help them cope and rehabilitate. In Chicago, Alvarez said, her office was drafting a similar measure to present to the Illinois legislature for consideration. Chapeux to Ms. Alvarez and may all the remaining States emulate her strategy.