Our Crimes Too

06/16/2010 02:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Malika Saada Saar Executive Director and Co-Founder , Human Rights Project for Girls (Rights4Girls); Special Counsel on Human Rights for The Raben Group

Finally, the hidden issues of gendered violence and sex trafficking are getting attention on the global stage. But, in too many instances, the condition of American women and girls has been left out of the conversation, as if the shameful acts of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation do not exist here in the U.S. too. The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released by the State Department on Monday thankfully debunks that myth.

For the first time in the 10 years since the State Department has ranked nations on a scale of 1-3 for their compliance with anti-trafficking laws, the TIP report includes the U.S. And, while the U.S. did rank in the first tier, the report unearths how American children are coerced into sexual slavery and then criminalized for it.

The report's story of Harriet, an 11-year-old girl sold for sex by a pimp, is representative of so many trafficked American girls. By 13, Harriet is arrested for prostitution while her pimp and the child abusers who purchased her are never arrested, prosecuted or incarcerated.

Perhaps what is surprisingly absent in Harriet's story, that is so commonly told by other girls sold for sex, is the role of Craigslist. More than any other Internet venue, Craigslist's adult services section operates as a cyber slave market -- both here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where sex trafficking is rampant. Girls like Harriet are purchased for sex off of Craigslist with the same ease and convenience as buying a chair. Hopefully, in the next TIP report, the State Department will shine the light on these major facilitators of child sex trafficking.

Now that the State Department's TIP report has included the U.S., and correctly points to our consistent criminalization of children sold for sex, it is time for a major shift in public policy. It is time to stop putting girl victims of commercial sexual exploitation behind bars. These girls are not the criminals. Indeed, the real criminals are those persons who buy and sell children through Craigslist and other venues, and they must be subject to the existing laws regarding statutory rape and child endangerment.

The U.S., as a Tier 1 ranked nation, that ended slavery over 150 years ago, has a moral responsibility to do the hard work of ending all vestiges of slavery -- and ensuring that every person and entity involved in selling children for sex is held accountable and appropriately punished. No girl in America should be for sale.