08/31/2015 04:40 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2016

Gangs and Government Curtail U.S. Child Prostitution

While America's street gangs and the United States Federal government are strange bedfellows, collectively they have curtailed child prostitution in America.

Tough federal sentencing practices created by Congress in an effort to protect children from sexual exploitation have had the unintended consequence of pushing children into serious crimes.

For the last 12 years, pimp/traffickers have received federal sentences of 20, 40, 60, 80 years and even "life in prison" if the trafficked child is 14 years of age or younger.

Some gangs initially responded to these tough sentencing laws by recruiting girls who were 18 years or older with a baby. The baby was a great motivator to earn money for the pimp/trafficker and to discourage the victim from cooperating with the police. If a young mom talked to the police, she may have been threatened with never seeing her baby again.

In the last year, however, some gangs have been forcing young girls to participate in violent crimes to avoid the long jail sentences associated with child sex trafficking.

Young girls are required to have relationships with gangs because gangs have become the "new neighborhood" required for protection on the street, in the school and generally in the community.

Street gangs control the child prostitution market in today's economy. Most children who have been forced to prostitute by street gangs report they were forced to carry guns and commit carjackings, robberies and residential burglaries.

Many little girls are incarcerated for violent crimes they were forced to perform by gangs.

Young teens are forced to decide between testifying against a dangerous gang member who threatens to kill her if she cooperates with law enforcement or spend time in jail serving a sentence for a crime she did not commit or committed out of duress -- fear for her life.

Probation departments throughout America have created intervention and diversion programs for children who have been arrested for prostitution or identified as committing acts of prostitution. However, children once thought of as sex trafficking victims are now considered violent criminals.

Consequently, these children bypass juvenile probation services and are sent directly to "Kiddie Prison" (Juvenile Justice Programs operated by the states) where they are criminalized permanently with records for serious violent crimes.

In some cases, these young teenage girls are required to appear in a "fitness hearing" to determine if they should be transferred to adult criminal court and tried as an adult because of the gravity of the crime committed.

Tough federal sex trafficking laws and resulting sentences have led gangs to force children to commit more violent crimes involving the use of guns because gang members spend less time in jail for using children to commit violent crimes than using children for crimes involving sex.

Congressional sex trafficking laws have had the unintended consequence of forcing children, once thought of as sex trafficking victims, into violent criminal activity.

To adequately address this problem new Congressional legislation is required that applies the tough sex trafficking laws to ANY adult who uses a child in ANY crime.

The cost savings obtained by reducing the need for juvenile detention facilities, court costs, and requisite juvenile justice personnel costs are astronomical. Some states spend $46,000 a year per juvenile offender and other states spend more than $350,000 per year per juvenile offender.

The opportunities for current juvenile detention facilities and probation officers to "make a difference" in the lives of a lesser number of children who will still require incarceration, treatment and supervision provides society and children with a valuable opportunity to help children achieve successful, productive lives.

We must act now! Support federal and state legislation to expand sex trafficking laws and sentencing practices to adults who use children in ANY crime.