Often, when Americans consider the sex trafficking of female children and teens, they view it as a foreign phenomenon. They don't know that hundreds of thousands of under-age American girls are victims of this corruption; that 80 percent are 'pushed into the life' because of sexual abuse; and that sexual abuse is compounded by violence, wretched imprisonment by pimps, and starvation as punishment for low earnings -- with little or nothing paid to the girls. This problem crosses all racial and economic lines. Runaways are frequent victims, other girls are lured or outright kidnapped (think of the "missing" children pictured on milk cartons). Girls as young as eight are victimized; the average age is 14.
Right now this outrage is exacerbated by the fact that Congress is well aware of the crisis, but Republicans are blocking important legislation that addresses it. Amazingly, under-age trafficking is happening concurrently with conservative politicians' preoccupation with the sex lives of consenting adults, as well as championing decreased access to family planning and, perhaps most alarming, the elimination of the Violence Against Women Act. As well, they are resisting two vital pieces of related legislation: re-authorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall; and establishment of a hard-hitting new law, The Domestic Minors Sex Trafficking Bill, which rightly regards these children as victims, not criminals.
It's worthwhile noting that Congress passed laws three times to fight human trafficking and slavery during the George W. Bush administration. But bipartisanship on an assortment of social issues has been usurped by Republican moralizing on sex/reproduction, women's health care, and "personal responsibility."
Currently, under-age sex trafficking in America is being brought into bright light by a stunning Off-Broadway play, Innocent Flesh, an acclaimed L.A. import starring four talented unknowns and wonderfully written/directed by a gifted young maverick, Kenyetta Lethridge. Like the subject itself, the play has received far less attention than it deserves. Instead, critics have been assigned by their editors to cover a slew of big new shows opening in time for theatrical award consideration. This is unfortunate, since Innocent Flesh is the most cogent theatrical cautionary tale since Rent.
I hope those who can see and spread the word about Innocent Flesh will. My greatest wish is that women and men nationwide will become more accurately aware of this problem and demand that lawmakers and law enforcement work to solve it. Call your members of Congress. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; all adults, whatever their politics may be, should act to protect our children. This illicit sexual activity is ruining the lives of children; it truly deserves public attention and immediate governmental action.
Executive-in-Residence at IMD and President & CEO of beCause Global Consulting, Nadine B. Hack is a member of the Executive Director's Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, which has played a pivotal role in developing and promoting the Violence Against Women Act.