Contrary to popular belief, many of America's child sex trafficking victims were never part of our foster care system. Many grew up in such horrific circumstances and dangerous conditions that even social workers were afraid to enter the makeshift homes or crack houses where they were forced to survive independent of America's traditional child care systems.
When asked to recount their early experiences with law enforcement, many child sex trafficking victims report the police coming to their home to arrest a father or male figure for domestic violence or for drug sales. The children recognize the wrongdoing of the adult figure but they overwhelmingly report the police left them there to fend for themselves.
Today's legislation is demanding Child Protective Services step up and provide residential care for this special group of children. America's children who have been sex trafficked present distinctive challenges to our social service system. Several of these children suffer from attachment disorders because they have been betrayed by the hands of their first caregivers. This lack of attachment to others results in compulsive running -- they run out of compulsion, not design.
The sex trafficking victim conjures up an image of a sweet, wholesome little girl in bed with her down comforter and her loving mom and dad in the other room watching television when the boogieman reaches through her bedroom window and kidnaps her. There is nothing further from the truth and this image conjured up by sex trafficking organizations have left America's child who is forced to prostitute unsympathetic and ineligible for services presumably designed to help her.
When cops, FBI and other law enforcement agencies are confronted with a disheveled teen spitting four-letter words, high on drugs, defending her boyfriend (pimp, trafficker), they are confused and often complain "this is not what we were told," "this is not a victim" -- when in fact this is the profile of the sex trafficking victim who has often been sexually abused by the hands of her first caregivers before she could walk, sold for drugs by her parents, denied medical or dental care, has lice in her hair, has boobs, butt and belly hanging out and is decorated with jewelry. She does not present wanting escape from the pimp/trafficker, nor is she desirous of another lifestyle because she can't phantom one.
Most American children trapped in prostitution don't even know that "sex trafficking" or "commercially sexually exploited" defines them and their activity. The profiles put forth in media do not look like them, the profile of being kidnapped is not recognized by them and many love their pimp/trafficker as much as fear him/her. They return to the pimp/trafficker because he/she provides a life which is familiar.
They live in a world where there are only four types of people and each person has a role with expectations and boundaries.
The first is "the trick," the customer who pays them for sex. He represents all of the people who have sexually abused her in the first place. He is not entitled to any respect. He deserves to be conned, cheated, and extorted.
The second is "the pimp/trafficker," who represents a daddy figure, no matter how abusive. He sets the level of expectation, and the victim performs according to the standards required -- he follows physical violence often with tender lovemaking to keep her confused. After all, he wouldn't beat her if she didn't act up and no matter how abusive, at least someone is paying attention to her -- more attention than anyone else in her life thus far.
Thirdly, the cops/FBI, who are like the pimp/trafficker in her eyes because he/she will take away the victim's freedom by putting her in jail, force her to do things she doesn't want to do (testify against the only person who paid attention to her) and toss her into an unprepared social service system of foster or residential care or send her to a relative who abused her in the first place.
Lastly, other sex trafficking victims (referred to as "family," "stable sisters") who will tell the pimp/trafficker anything she says in order to protect themselves or advance their own position in the sex trafficking organization.
Life with a pimp can be better than life at home or life in residential care because at least with a pimp someone is paying attention to her and the victim knows what is going to happen next. Living under the control of a pimp/trafficker can be as rigid as service in the military and military service is not an uncommon pursuit of those who have escaped control by a pimp/trafficker. The pimp/trafficker is more organized and more committed to his victims than the victim's family or care provider.
Unlike the picture portrayed by most sex trafficking advocates, the American victim of sex trafficking comes from a chaotic home characterized by domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse and mental illness.
In these homes everything is unexpected, violence can erupt without notice and the victim lives on the edge because she does not know what is going to happen next. The pimp/trafficker fills this gap with his rigid set of do's and don'ts.
In a strange way, the pimp/trafficker provides a specific level of comfort for the child -- something that must be provided by residential care. This is one of the reasons that the child sex trafficking victim thrives in detention, although not an appropriate treatment modality.
The child sex trafficking victim thrives in behavior modification programs as well because they are skilled at controlling their behavior when under the control of a pimp/trafficker. However, they are knowledgeable about the mechanics of behavior modification so they can control the progress of other participants.
A "quick fix" may make the advocate, legislator or law enforcement member feel better for a limited amount of time because secure detention or treatment may temporarily alleviate their mental images about the torturous sexual bondage of a young girl. However, creating life changing circumstances and real opportunities for America's children who have been sex trafficked requires a long term commitment, well organized residential programs and most importantly a "gift of time."